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5 places to find spring in North Carolina

By Joe Miller | February 25, 2021 | Healthy Lifestyle, Explore NC

Small green buds begin to bloom on a tree branch

The temperature was in the 50s, the sky a blue we haven’t seen much of this year. I was scanning the ground along the Pump Station Trail, eager for signs of spring. It was the third week of February, late by seasonal norms for the first sign of spring’s first responders: the spring beauty, its five rounded pedals scanning the sky for sun like a satellite dish seeking a signal, and the trout lily, with its delicate fingers of crimson and yellow. Alas, the best I could do was one mottled leaf of a trout lily, barely penetrating the leaf litter. Spring was on the cusp.

And that’s OK, because when spring-like weather finally hits — when temperatures reach the 60s for two or three days straight and the sun quits being coy, we’re in for quite the show.

Ah, but where to catch the show that represents the psychological start of spring? Today, we look at five spots with excellent odds for spotting memorable ephemerals.

1. Eno River State Park, Durham

Pump Station Trail, 1.5 miles

The Eno River Association, the half-century-old non-profit responsible for most of the land in this linear state park, says “Pump Station Trail is known as the best spring wildflower trail in the park.” The reason: a bottomland hardwood forest along the Eno River’s south bank whose rich soil and ample exposure provide the ingredients for a jumpstart on the spring growing season.

Look for carpets of spring beauties and collections of trout lilies, followed by cranefly orchids and a number of other spring ephemerals.

Learn more here.

2. Raven Rock State Park, Lillington

Raven Rock Loop Trail, 2.6 miles

For variety, you can’t beat Raven Rock State Park. Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, saxifrage, trailing arbutus, Solomon’s seal, bellwort, spring beauty — there’s a who’s who of spring wildflowers within this 4,684-acre park, which straddles the Cape Fear River where the piedmont grudgingly gives way to the coastal plain.

A variety of options ensures a longer viewing season, beginning in early March and extending well into May. Add the 1.5-mile Little Creek Loop Trail for more viewing opportunity.

Learn more here.

Being outdoors is good for your health.

If you’re feeling cooped up during the pandemic, getting outside can help.

Soaking up some vitamin D from the sunlight will help you reach your daily dose.

Plus, Harvard Health says being in nature can:

  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Help you fight seasonal affective disorder
  • Boost your concentration
  • Improve your mood and self-esteem

Here’s more good news: A 2019 study shows it doesn’t take long to feel the benefits of being outside. Just 20 minutes spent in a park can improve your overall life satisfaction.

A white wildflower pops up between grass and leaves in early spring

3. Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle

Mountain Trail, 4.3 miles

There are a couple of benefits to hiking this trail. One, much of this trail, which nearly circles the base of the mountain, is in mature hardwood forest with extensive early season exposure on the mountain’s south and west flanks. Another advantage: You can avoid the crowds that flock to Pilot Mountain on a gorgeous spring weekend by avoiding the mountaintop access and starting instead at the Pinnacle Hotel Road/Culler Road parking area.

Learn more here.

4. McDowell Nature Center and Preserve, Charlotte

Chestnut Trail (1.2 miles) and Kingfisher Trail (0.9 miles)

Fortunately, this 1,115-acre preserve operated by the Mecklenburg County Division of Nature Preserves and Natural Resources has 7 miles of trail to handle the crowds. You should have some elbow room as you search for the 32 species of spring wildflowers found here.

And you shouldn’t feel rushed if you’re with folks not as keen on wildflowers as yourself: the park, which abuts Lake Wylie, also has 119 species of birds identified (not all of which are year-round residents), 21 mammals, 21 reptiles and 14 species of amphibians.

Learn more here.

5. Grandfather Mountain State Park, Linville

Profile Trail, 3.6 miles

It should come as no surprise that Grandfather Mountain, one of the most ecologically diverse places in the country, is a prime spot for wildflower viewing. So prime that, in normal years the park sponsors a weekly wildflower walk from April into June.

What might be surprising, since a mountain rises more than 2,100 feet from its base, is that some of the best viewing opportunities involve little climbing. The Profile Trail, on the mountain’s northwest flank, does minimal climbing during its first mile, a mile spent in a lush hardwood forest and, for a short bit, along the Watauga River, an area with prime wildflower viewing.

Learn more here.