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March 30, 2017

Best Spring Wildflower Walks

Although there are many parks that are larger, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the greatest diversity of plants anywhere in North America. In fact, north of the tropics, only China has a greater diversity of plant life than the Southern Appalachians.

The Smoky Mountains contain over 300 rare species of plants, with as many as 125 on the protected plant lists of either North Carolina or Tennessee. Three plant species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, with 12 others currently under review for federal protection.

The following is a list of some of the best wildflowers walks in the Smokies in the Spring

Ace Gap – In late April, and into early May, look for yellow trillium, beard tongue, Solomon’s seal, spiderwort, fire pink, hawkweed, pink lady slippers, Catesby’s trillium, yellow mandarin, rue anemone, wild geranium, little brown jugs, Robin’s plantain and flame azalea. In May you can expect to find meadow parsnip, sweet shrub, four leaved milkweed, blackberry, mountain laurel and star grass. In late May and into June, look for fairy wand, false Solomon’s seal, galax and Indian pink.

Bradley Fork Trail – During the early spring season, hepaticas, violets, and foam flower are found on this trail out of Smokemont. As the season progresses, umbrella leaf and Fraser’s sedge begin to bloom on the higher elevations of the trail. You can also find wood and rue anemone, Vasey’s trillium, beaked violets and crested dwarf iris in April and May. From April through July, look for wild strawberry, Robin’s plantain and Canadian violets.

Chestnut Top – Spring beauties are usually the first to bloom on this trail in March. Throughout the spring, you can find white trillium, bloodroot, yellow trillium, hepaticas, violets, Jack-in-the-pulpit, bishop’s cap, purple phacelia, fire pink, plantain-leaved pussytoes, star chickweed and wild stonecrop. During the late spring and early summer period, look for hairy beard-tongue, rattlesnake hawkweed and squawroot. Many of these flowers can be found within the first couple hundred feet of the trailhead.

Cove Hardwood Self-Guided Nature Trail – This three-quarter-mile loop trail begins in the Chimneys Picnic Area. Many people say that this is one of the best areas in the park for wildflowers, with the best time being in late April. However, as early as March you can begin to see hepaticas and trout-lilies. Through April and May look for yellow trillium, white fringed phacelia, squirrel corn, wild ginger, white trillium and Dutchman’s britches. Solomon’s seal arrives in May and lasts through June.

Cosby Nature Trail – Located in the Cosby Campground, this one mile trail passes through several forest types, providing for a variety of wildflowers. Peak months for wildflowers are March and April. Look for Vasey’s trillium, squirrel corn, Dutchman’s britches, brook lettuce and squawroot. Bleeding heart, showy orchis and Vasey’s trillium show-up in April and May.
Deep Creek – Wildflowers are abundant along this trail just outside of Bryson City. You’ll find a variety of trilliums blooming at different times, as well as foamflower, galax, crested dwarf iris, beard tongue, Solomon’s seal, cinquefoil, bloodroot, bluets and blue-eyed grass. Jack-in-the-pulpit is also abundant, but is sometimes hard to locate among the wild geranium, clinton’s lily and large houstonia. As the trail rises in elevation along the Sunkota Ridge and Indian Creek Trails, you’ll notice rhododendron, mountain laurel and flame azalea.

Husky Gap – Husky Gap is accessed via Little River Trail in Elkmont. Expect to see yellow trillium, dwarf cinquefoil and stonecrop. Roughly half-way between the Little River Trail and Husky Gap there can be a riot of flowers: yellow, white and painted trillium, blue phlox, hepaticas and violets. Sometimes the hillsides throughout this section of trail can be covered in wildflowers. This is a great trail to hike in April and May if your goal is to spot wildflowers.

Kanati Fork – Expect to see early yellow violet as early as March on this trail. By April, you’ll begin to see cut-leaved toothwort, dwarf cinquefoil, large-flowered bellwort, white baneberry, Canadian violets, Vasey’s trillium, painted trillium, wake robin, Solomon’s seal, Northern white violets and brook lettuce. Most of these flowers will last well into May, but the best time to visit is in late April.

Little River Trail – This trail is best hiked between mid-March and April, if you’re goal is viewing wildflowers. During the early spring you can expect to see spring beauties and trailing arbutus. As the season progresses, look for hepaticas, yellow trillium, dwarf cinquefoil, stonecrop, Canadian violets and umbrella leaf. You may also see mountain mint, orange and pale jewelweed as early as June here as well.

Porters Creek Trail – This trail is well known for its spectacular wildflower displays from late March through April. We hiked this trail in late March and were treated to a forest floor carpeted with bloodroot, hepaticas, white fringed phacelia, violets and white trillium. As the season progresses into April and May, you can find yellow trillium, toothwort, wild geranium, May-apple, dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, baneberry, foam flower, halberd-leaved violets, woodland bluets and Jack-in-the-pulpits.

Oconaluftee – Late April is the best time for viewing wildflowers along the Oconaluftee River Trail. More than 40 species of wildflowers have been identified along the trail, making it an especially worthwhile walk in spring and fall. During the spring, hikers can find several varieties of trillium and violets, jack-in-the-pulpit, squirrel corn, stonecrop and May apple.

Rich Mountain Loop – This trail had the most diverse amount of wildflowers we’ve seen in one hike. During our mid-May hike we saw mountain laurel, flame azalea, purple phacelia, rattlesnake hawkweed, yellow ragwort, violets, sweet shrub, wild geranium, blackberry, fourleaf milkweed, everlasting pea and butterfly weed.

Schoolhouse Gap – The Schoolhouse Gap Trail is another excellent trail for spring wildflowers. We saw many Virginia bluebells on the lower portion of the trail. As we proceeded on, we saw beaked violets, pink lady’s slippers, fairy wand, golden aster, star grass, red clover, Robin’s plantain, sun drops, Catesby’s trillium and lyre-leaf sage. The trail also had its share of rhododendron and mountain laurel, which were just beginning to bloom during our mid-May hike. Hikers can also find cardinal flower, Carolina vetch and yellow ragwort on this trail.  

Spence Field – Spence Field has the most spectacular display of mountain laurel I’ve ever seen. The hillsides and meadows were literally covered in the white and soft pink flowers from this member of the heath family. The best time to visit Spence Field is from late May to mid June.

Hilda Returns to Buckhorn After 60 Year Absence

Hilda andHilda Henderson Hagins wrote to us………

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the beautiful Buckhorn Inn.  Our family rented a cabin there for a week for several summers in the 1950’s. The beautiful view from the porch of the Inn has remained with me all these years. I also recall the wonderful breakfasts at the lodge and all the books and bookshelves in the main gathering room. Even then I loved books and reading! The breakfasts at the Inn were another highlight of our day.

During our week at Buckhorn Inn we often took day trips into the park and I remember the delicious lunches the staff always packed for us. The innkeepers’ daughter Molly and I were best friends for that week each summer, and Molly often accompanied us on our trips into the park. (Maybe that’s why our lunches were so good!)

A highlight of my week was when Molly and her mother June would invite me to spend the night with Molly at Bebb House.  Molly and I were pen pals for most of elementary school.

My husband and I are returning to Gatlinburg for a mini vacation later in March. Our son is our official “travel agent” so we asked him to book some accommodations for us in the area. Imagine my surprise when he told us he had booked a stay at Buckhorn Inn for us! He had no idea of my history with that wonderful place. I am excited and can’t wait to visit a place that has lived in my heart for many years with beauty and happy memories for me! I’ll see you soon!

Hilda Henderson Hagins