Located on milepost 363.4 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Craggy Dome stands guard as the tallest peak of the Great Craggy Mountains. Summiting this 6,085 foot peak requires a strenuous 450 foot ascent along the 0.8 mile Reese Trail. A short spur of the Mountains To Sea Trail as it travels through Craggy Gardens, the Reese Trail can be accessed from a trailhead in the Greybeard Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. As one of the 40 peaks above 6,000 feet in the Southern Appalachians, peak baggers must ascend Craggy Dome in order to be accepted into the South Beyond 6000 Club.
Reese Trail | 0.8 Miles
Reese Trail Map | AllTrails
Greybeard Mountain Overlook Location | Google maps
Located across from the massively popular Craggy Pinnacle Trail, most visitors are unaware that the lonesome peak across from the parking lot, Craggy Dome (6,085’), is the real star of the Great Craggy Mountains. Looking at it from a distance, the smooth and grassy appearance of Craggy Dome is deceptively inviting. Carpeted by thickets of heath, blueberry, and rhododendron bushes, this bald peak is a perfect example of the unique ecosystem found in this secluded part of North Carolina.
Those willing to take on the punishing short 0.8 mile trail will be rewards with a 180 degree view of the surrounding landscape that is absolutely breathtaking. To reach the trailhead for Craggy Dome, hikers must travel to the Greybeard Mountain Overlook on milepost 363.4 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a few miles south of Mount Mitchell State Park.
After taking a moment to marvel at the distant summit of Greybeard Mountain and the village of Montreat from the overlook, walk on over to the southern end of the parking lot towards the base of Craggy Dome and you should be able to spot a stone slab staircase leading down to an opening in the woods. The start of your journey is marked by a stone pillar with a white circle and initials “MST”.
Even though its for less than 0.3 of a mile, this trail begins by hiking on the 1,175 mile Mountains to Sea Trail which beings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends in Jockeys Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. Enjoy it while you can because this is the only stretch of the trail that looks anything like a hiking trail to most people. As the MST turns right to cross over the Blue Ridge Parkway and down into a valley in the heart of Craggy Gardens, you will continue STRAIGHT onto the Reese Trail.
The “Punisher”, “Marriage Ender”, and “Vow Destroyer” are some of the more colorful names used to describe the Reese Trail. While there are more difficult and strenuous trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway and North Carolina as a whole, there are a few things going for the Reese Trail that make it so infamous. For starters, this trail is completely overgrown most of the year.
Despite being a spur of the Mountains To Sea Trail, the star of North Carolina hiking trails, the Reese Trail sees no upkeep whatsoever. It’s more akin to traveling a backcountry trail than one of the more manicured trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. No upkeep means this trail is notoriously hard to navigate. Even while using a navigation app on my phone, I still got lost and went off trail several times.
This in particular has been the vain of most hikers whom are known to spend countless hours navigating in circles along small deer and hiker made paths going nowhere. While the Reese Trail is mostly a straight shot up the mountain, theres a small swerve in the middle where a switchback begins the steep ascent to the summit. That “swerve” is the part I had trouble with as the trail appeared to go straight along one of those pesky hiker made paths. It took a bit of doubt to make me check my navigation app, which had me backtrack several feet and turn left onto something that didn’t even look like a trail. But in fact not much about this trail looks “like a trail”.
Now let’s take into account the terrain. Being a heath bald, the area has no tree canopy to protect itself from the harsh weather this region is known for. Ice Storms, strong winds, and heavy downpours all add to the deteriorated conditions you’ll face on this trail. Unless you undertake this trail on a dry summers day that hasn’t seen rain in the previous week, chances are you’ll encounter a lot of mud. In fact, I came upon several sections of the trail as I neared the summit where a small creek was running right between my feet on the way up. The Reese Trail is so eroded in parts, that I found myself scaling rocky ledges where a dirt path once existed.
Having a pair of trekking poles really helped in navigating the more technical sections that involved some steep scrambling. Once you get past the “swerve” and begin scaling the peak, the path ascends the mountain along the back of it, giving you a few framed views looking out over Greybeard Mountain. Everything down in that valley is part of the largest city owned watershed in the United States. At 20,000 acres, this area supplies 30 million gallons of water daily to the 150,000 people in the Asheville area. While painting a clean source of drinking water, it also preserves one of the few intact spruce fir forests in Western North Carolina.
At a certain point near the top, you’ll actually be able to see the summit as it comes into view below the brush. Marked by a giant slab of rock and not much more, theres a lot of shared disappointment out there about a lack of fireworks when you reach this summit. Even at 5’11, I found it difficult to see above the brush until I stood up on the large boulder marking the summit. Up until then the experience was a bit, ho-hum.
Standing up on that rock opened up the mountain scenery stretching off to Bullhead Mountain and Locust Knob and past that to the start of the Black Mountain Range. Better yet, was a chance to experience the unique weather of the region. Cloud banks often rise up from the lower valley to blanket the peak and lower back down to the valley on the opposite side of the ridge. If I hadn’t been procrastinating the trip back down from Craggy Dome, I would have never spent enough time on there to see all of this.
One of the benefits of tackling a trail off the beaten path is the fact that you avoid all of the crowds. Having just left a ridiculously crowded Craggy Pinnacle, just across the road, it was a welcome respite to not see another soul on Craggy Dome. So is this a pleasant hike? Not particularly. Are there stunning views at the peak? Eh, kind of. Should you hike this peak? Sure, if you like a challenge and want to brag that you did it. But, if you want to bag all of the Southern Over 6000 Peaks, just know that Craggy Dome won’t give itself up without a fight.
Up next, I’ll be taking a stroll through the heart of Craggy Gardens along the Craggy Gardens Trail to Craggy Flats. Yeah, there was A LOT of “Craggy” in that sentence. Stay tuned as I catch some outrageously gorgeous sunset views from one of the oldest attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway and until next time, see y’all on the trails!