Rising serenely from the Swannanoa Valley almost 4000 feet below, Craggy Dome might be as charismatic a southern sixer as you could ever look at from the bottom. And of peaks with 1000 feet of clean prominence, this is the tenth highest in eastern America. Yet you'll likely have no company on its damp, bushy upper reaches--this peak is mostly admired only from afar.
The top of Craggy Dome is a heath bald, covered in laurel bushes so dense that trees can't get a foothold. Fortunately, there is a rock that almost emerges from the bushes, and tall people can catch a pretty good view if they really crane their necks.
Craggy Dome from the Lake Tomahawk in the Swannanoa Valley
In the dwarf forest near the top Rhododendron grows densely on the summit cone
Craggy Dome is most easily accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which crosses its northern flank at an elevation of about 5600 feet, visiting both the gap on the Craggy Pinnacle side and the opposite gap on the Bullhead side of the peak. Craggy Dome is about 20 miles up the parkway from the US 70 entrance at Asheville.
For the full north side ascent, take NC 197 to Barnardsville, NC and turn south at the post office. Stay on this road until you reach Dillingham. Follow left fork in Dillingham to big Ivy Campground, after which the pavement will end. Follow the unpaved road (FS 74) for about nine miles to Craggy Mountains Scenic Area. The trailhead is at the end of the car park.
RoutesFrom the Parkway:
At the Greybeard Overlook at Mile 363.4 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, look for a little path leading southward from the south end of the parking area. This is the Mountains-to-Sea trail. After a couple of hundred yards, this trail turns decisively downhill and crosses the parkway. Don't do this, but instead bear left on a path continuing upward. The path is never difficult to follow and leads, after about a mile and 500 feet of ascent, to the laurel-covered summit.
Complete North Side Ascent:
From the Douglas Falls trailhead parking at the end of Forest Service Road 74, elevation 4400 feet, take the gentle trail that descends 200 feet in half a mile to Douglas Falls (locally known as Carter Creek Falls). From this pretty 70-foot cascade, turn left and start a steady 1000-foot climb to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, passing a second waterfall on the way. Turn left and follow the MST to Greybeard Overlook on the parkway, and continue as described above. Total distance to the summit from the trailhead is in the neighborhood of five miles, with a 2000-foot elevation gain.
Because the Mountains-to-Sea Trail traverses reaches 5600 feet on the north flank of Craggy Dome, creative trip planners could craft an interesting ascent from a variety of trailheads that connect with the MST. One that could work quite well would be to come south from Cane River Gap over Big Butt, Point Misery, and the northern Craggies. Ascents from the south are illegal due to the Asheville Watershed--it is prohibited to enter the headwaters above the Burnett and Bee Tree reservoirs.
When To Climb
Craggy Dome can be ascended year round. Because of the elevation, the summit area is cool even in high summer. In winter, this stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is typically closed, so that the ascent must be made from the valley floor at that time of year.
Northeast from the summit, looking across Bullhead to the Black Mountains (photo: dwhike)
Camping on or near the summit is neither practical nor legal (camping in the Blue Ridge Parkway right of way is forbidden except at designated sites, of which there are none in this area). Dispersed camping on Forest Service lands is permitted in the Big Ivy area
, north of the mountain.