Take a Walk on the Wildflower Side With These NC Mountain Hikes
The hills truly are alive — maybe not with the sound of music, but certainly with the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” of hikers taking in the spring wildflower display. While we’re a good month and a half from the rhododendron and mountain laurel blooms that lure folks to the North Carolina high country, already the blindingly white bloodroot, the deftly-painted trillium, the pink and the yellow lady slipper, and a host of other flowers are poking through the forest floor in search of life-sustaining sunlight.
A spring wildflower display is great incentive to get up, get out and explore. But don’t wait too long: the soon-to-leaf-out tree canopy will blot out that light and bring the curtain down on this year’s show.
Here are five NC mountain hikes where early season wildflowers are especially alluring. Uncertain about your hiking skills and what you should take on the trail? GetGoingNC’s GetHiking! program can get you up to speed with these helpful tips.
Oconaluftee River Trail
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cherokee
- 3 miles
For starters, at least 1,660 kinds of flowering plants are found in the Smokies, more than in any other national park in North America (hence, its a.k.a of “Wildflower National Park”). And while the Smokies show has a long run, it peaks (paradoxically) in the park’s lower elevations, in mid- to late-April. While you may have missed the early-blooming hepaticas and spring beauties, RomanticAsheville.com reports you can expect to see trillium (the park has 10 different species), lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, columbine, bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, little brown jugs, and violets
Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 418.8
- 4 miles
Not everyone in your crew as enamored of wildflowers as you? Got some folks who need some scenic… sizzle? Graveyard Fields along the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Mount Pisgah offers vast wildflower viewing in its wide-open spaces and throws in some sexy waterfalls — Upper and Lower, on Yellowstone Prong — to sweeten the deal (not to mention great views of surrounding 6,000-foot peaks). Early in the season, look for the liverleaf, toothwort, spring beauty, trout lily, trillium, larkspur, foamflower and Jack-in-the-pulpit; late spring bloomers include Turk’s cap lily, meadow rue, evening primrose, bellflower, bee balm, impatiens and turtlehead.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
- Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 294
- 1 to 26 miles
Like the idea of hiking to see wildflowers but aren’t so keen on the often rocky and rooted trails you must navigate? Moses Cone, a 3,600-acre retreat along the Blue Ridge Parkway, has a marathon’s-worth of smooth carriage trail that lets you focus on what’s along the trail, not on the trail itself. The mile-long walk around Bass Lake is especially foot-friendly and can be accessed just outside of Blowing Rock. A particularly accessible adventure from Charlotte and the Triad.
- Pisgah National Forest, U.S. 276 north of Brevard
- 5-mile loop
Got a thing for pink blooms? Pink Beds, a high-elevation mountain bog, got its name for the pink hue it cast when viewed from the ridge above. It’s Mary Kay cast comes primarily from the dominant mountain laurel and rhododendrons, but from other contributors as well. Despite its length and setting on the face of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, this is a relatively flat hike, much of it boardwalked to keep you above the bog and the beaver-dammed creeks.
- Craggy Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville
- 8.4-mile loop
If you want to know where the really good wildflowers are in the Carolina mountains, ask the folks who’ve been exploring these mountains longer than just about anyone: the Carolina Mountain Club. “The wildflowers and ramps have been spectacular every time CMC has done this hike,” Carroll Koepplinger with the CMC says of this loop. An especially good area for viewing trilliums, showy orchis, larkspur and the rare Indian paint brush. One caveat: the route used by the CMC, which has been poking around these mountains since 1923, involves some bushwhacking: serious hikers only.
[Top image via Shutterstock]