Craggy Gardens Trail: hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway through a rhododendron-filled forest
Hike the Craggy Gardens Trail, climbing through a beautiful high-elevation forest filled with blooming rhododendron, wild blueberries and wildflowers to stunning summit views.
This hike on the Craggy Gardens Trail climbs from the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, trekking through a beautiful forest to a grassy summit meadow. At the summit, blooming rhododendron are abundant in June, and blueberries and blackberries are plentiful in late summer months. And views are plentiful, too. Departing the summit, the hike dips through a lush forest of gnarled trees to the Craggy Gardens picnic area and then retraces back to visitor center. It’s a great hike and makes a great setting for a cool, breezy summertime picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Craggy Gardens Trail: the hike
The hike departs from a signed trailhead at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 364 (view maps and driving directions). The trail departs from the southern end of the parking area, climbing and winding through a lush, green, rocky forest filled with gnarly-branched rhododendron.
The trail meanders as it climbs, soon passing the trailhead of the Douglas Falls Trail at under .1 mile. The trail climbs steadily, sunlight filtering through the dense, low forest canopy. The trail reaches the Craggy Gardens picnic pavilion at .25 mile.
A side trail hikes south from the pavilion, trekking through the summit’s vast, open, grassy expanses to patches of wildflowers and scattered old, gnarly-branched hardwoods. Beyond the stretches of the high-elevation meadow, views of the surrounding rolling mountains of the Pisgah National Forest extend far onto the horizon. Craggy Pinnacle is the nearby prominent peak to the northeast, and the Black Mountain Range, including the highest mountains east of the Mississippi River, Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig, are visible to the distant northwest.
A maze of trails explore the sun-drenched summit. A loop to the summit overlook and back to the pavilion spans just over a quarter mile. After returning to the wood pavilion, the hike continues following the Craggy Gardens Trail westbound, veering to the northwest. The hike climbs through a small clearing at .6 mile before darting back into the forest, passing dense thickets of blueberry bushes that burst with bountiful berries in mid to late summer.
Gnarly, twisted trees, tall grasses and colorful wildflowers fill the forest. A short side trail departs on the left at .75 mile, looping to a wooden gazebo before rejoining the Craggy Gardens Trail. The trail continues its westerly trek, winding through the forest and dropping elevation. The trail reaches the Craggy Gardens picnic area at just over 1 mile, the end point of this hike. The picnic area makes a great mid-hike resting spot and venue for a mid-hike snack. (It’s also a great alternate trailhead for this hike if the visitor’s center parking area is crowded.)
Departing the picnic area, the hike flips in reverse, retracing its outbound steps through the rhododendron-filled forest, crossing through the summit area. Sunlight filters through the Catawba rhododendron canopy, warming the forest in golden hues.
Descending from the summit, the hike reaches the visitor’s center parking area at just under 1.9 miles, completing the hike.
More Craggy Gardens hiking adventure
While the grassy, open summit on the Craggy Gardens Trail is well worth the hike, the slightly shorter (but slightly more difficult) Craggy Pinnacle Trail is a can’t-miss. Departing from the Craggy Dome Overlook, the Craggy Pinnacle Trail climbs through a dense canopy of twisted rhododendron to a steep, rocky summit where views are incredible and wide. It’s a short drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Craggy Picnic Area; see our Craggy Pinnacle trail guide for more info.
Craggy Gardens Trail: Directions & Details
Free parking is available at the Craggy Gardens visitor center (MP 364) or picnic area (MP 367.6) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)
35.699383, -82.380089 // N35 41.964 W82 22.806