Your Guide to Craggy Gardens Near Asheville, NC
Catch 360-degree long range mountain views from a wild garden full of blooms
Just north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find the beautiful rhododendron adorned mountaintop meadow called Craggy Gardens.
This mountaintop bald is one of the most popular outdoor attractions near Asheville. It’s an especially beautiful place early to mid-June when the rhododendrons are in full bloom and early October during fall leaf season.
The trail starting at the Visitor Center is very easy to access and great for all ages and experience levels. Craggy Gardens definitely belongs on your Asheville hiking bucket list!
Craggy Gardens Quick Facts
Trailhead location: Two trailheads that lead to the gardens:
Trail length: 2 mi out and back (less than 1/2 mi to garden bald from the Visitor Center)
Elevation change: 570 feet from picnic area to peak
Distance from downtown Asheville: 20 miles
Drive time from downtown Asheville: 40 minutes
Trail Condition: Rocky dirt path
About Craggy Gardens
Craggy Gardens is a popular mountain bald in the Great Craggy Mountains, a subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is known for its high-elevation forest tunnels and mountaintop meadows covered with wildflowers and rhododendrons.
One of the most popular times to visit is in late spring when the native catawba rhododendrons are in bloom with peak flowers occurring early to mid-June.
The area is beautiful other times of year as well with the meadows blooming all summer and fall foliage in early October all in front of a backdrop of long-range mountain views.
Craggy Gardens is the perfect spot for a picnic or to catch a sunrise or sunset with 360-degree views.
Directions to Craggy Gardens
There are two areas that offer access to the Craggy Gardens trails: the picnic area and the Visitor Center. Both are accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If coming from Asheville, you’ll pass by the picnic area first and then just a short drive later you’ll get to the Visitor Center. The area is not accessible when the parkway is closed for winter weather.
The trailhead at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area can be accessed from a branch road on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 367.6. There is clear signage indicating the turn. The side road winds just over 1 mile through the forest up to a large grassy picnic area with plenty of parking.
The Second Trailhead offers a shorter, less strenuous hike to the top of Craggy Gardens. It’s located at the Visitor Center at milepost 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trailhead is at the south end of the parking lot.
Craggy Gardens Parking
Parking is available at both trailhead locations. There are restroom facilities located at both Craggy Gardens parking lots.
Parking At The Picnic Area
There is a large parking lot with ample parking at the Craggy Gardens Picnic area. This trailhead gives access to the more strenuous hike to the Craggy Gardens summit.
There are a ton of picnic tables scattered around the area, both shaded and in the sun. There’s also a restroom facility locted here.
Parking At The Visitor Center
There is a second parking lot at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and overlook. This parking lot can be very busy and fills up early but there is frequent car turnover.
It’s a busy place not only because the Craggy Gardens trail is popular, but also because there’s a great view from the parking lot. There’s also a restroom and small shop at the Visitor Center.
Hiking The Craggy Gardens Trail
There are many options to explore the area and it’s up to personal preferences on how you want to tackle it.
- One option is to hike the full trail length from the Picnic Area to the Visitor Center, taking the spur trails through the meadow gardens.
- Another option is to take the very short hike from the Visitor Center to the gardens and back.
- And a third option is to take the trail from the picnic area to the meadow garden and back.
We’ll describe each section so that you can plan ahead and know what to expect.
Hike from Craggy Gardens Picnic Area to the Covered Pavilion
This hike starts at the east end of the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area parking lot. You’ll walk past a wooden cabin and picnic tables before entering the forest. There’s an upward climb with a gain a little under 500 feet in elevation over a half mile.
As you follow the trail you will see a spur that leads to the Craggy Garden Gazebo, offering your first of many breathtaking views.
After hiking half a mile you will reach a second structure: the Craggy Gardens Covered Pavilion.
From here you can choose to hike to the left through the pavilion and reach the Visitor Center, or take the spur to the right to enter the trails meandering through the mountain bald and natural garden.
Hike from the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center to the Covered Pavilion
You will find the Craggy Gardens Trail at the south end of the Visitor Center parking lot. From here you will enter the high-altitude forest where you feel like you’re walking through a tunnel of rhododendrons and trees.
The rocky trail immerses you in nature passing by several benches to take it in and natural mountain springs along the side of the trail. This section of trail is relatively flat with a modest climb of a little over 100 feet in elevation.
After about 3/10 of a mile, you will reach the covered pavilion where you can take the trail to the left to enter the mountaintop meadow or to the right to hike down to the other trailhead at the picnic area (see above.)
Hike from the Covered Pavilion through the Mountaintop Meadow Garden
At this point, you have reached the main attraction of this hiking trail. As you follow the spur you will walk through meadows of native wild grasses and flowers surrounded by Catawba rhododendrons.
You can see long-range views in every direction. Speaking of, make sure you pack sunscreen and hat! As you continue along the path you will climb to the highest point in Craggy Gardens at 5,680ft.
Just past this peak, you will come to the end of the trail spur where you have views to the east and can see the North Fork Reservoir below.
From this point, you are ready to meander back to the pavilion and continue your adventure along the main trail.
Looking for other nearby adventures? Hop on the Parkway and make the drive to Mount Mitchell State Park for another enjoyable adventure. You’ll also pass Craggy Pinnacle on the way, which is an uphill hike with exceptional views. It’s about a minute drive from the Visitor Center.