Every spring, the mountains of the southeastern United States produce some of the most vibrant and diverse woodland wildflower displays in the world. Usually beginning in March and continuing through early fall, thousands of wildflower varieties create a patchwork of delicate to brilliant colors along the banks of mountain trails and streams, winding roadsides, rock formation outcroppings and mountain peaks.
Directly affected by weather and elevation, the earliest bloom times begin at the lower elevations and progress during the season to the higher elevations. The spectacular flowering rhododendrons are particularly breathtaking and a major spring attraction. See Wildflower Photos.
Some of the best places to see spring wildflowers in the mountains of the Southeast include:
Roan Mountain - Cherokee National Forest - Tennessee and North Carolina
Encompassing 640,000 acres, Cherokee National Forest is situated in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Extending from Chattanooga to the North Carolina border, Cherokee National Forest is divided into northern and southern areas by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Roan Mountain, actually a ridge of five mountain peaks, is located in the northern section of Cherokee National Forest along the Tennessee - North Carolina border. It is home to the largest known natural display of rhododendron bushes in the world. Located in the Canadian temperate zone along the ridge between two of the peaks, High Bluff and High Knob, the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens cover approximately 600 acres. During the peak blooming season, usually mid to late June, visitors arrive by the thousands to enjoy the breathtaking magenta hued gardens and vistas.
At the mountain base, the annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival takes place during the third or fourth weekend of June at Roan Mountain State Park. The festival, a more than 60-year tradition, features local handmade crafts, food, traditional music and folk demonstrations.
Getting to Roan Mountain - Tennessee State Highway 143 winds through Roan Mountain State Park to Carvers Gap and the entrance to Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens.
More about Roan Mountain wildflowers on Page 2
Shenandoah National Park - Virginia
Shenandoah National Park, extending 105 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, is known for its abundant wildlife, diverse plant life and picture-postcard vistas of the historic Shenandoah Valley. Skyline Drive, which follows the crest of the mountains, is a designated National Scenic Byway and the park's only public road.
During the spring, usually beginning in late March, woodland wildflowers are plentiful along forest trails and streams at lower elevations. By May, displays of vibrant azaleas can be seen both in the forest and beside the Skyline Drive roadway. A wide array of wildflower varieties continues to bloom into summer and fall, providing visitors with several months of enjoyment.
In May, Shenandoah National Park holds a special Wildflower Weekend, featuring special talks, nature hikes and other wildflower related activities. Events take place at various locations in the park.
Getting to Shenandoah National Park - There are four entrances into Shenandoah National Park located at:
- Front Royal - via I-66 and Route 340
- Thornton Gap - via Route 211
- Swift Run Gap - via Route 33
- Rockfish Gap - via I-64 and Route 250
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - North Carolina and Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomes well over 9 million annual visitors, earning the rank of America's most visited national park. With over 1,660 varieties of flowering plants, the most diverse wildflower preserve in any of the North American national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers springtime visitors a chance to enjoy a remarkable array of seasonal blooms. While flowers bloom during every season in the park, the peak spring display usually occurs from mid to late April at lower elevations and a few weeks later at higher elevations.
Every year a Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage takes place for five days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Participants are able to take part in an array of wildflower, fauna, and natural history walks, motorcades, photographic tours, art classes, and indoor seminars. Most programs are held outdoors in the park, although some indoor events are conducted in venues throughout Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Getting to Great Smoky Mountains National Park - There are three main entrances into Great Smoky Mountains National Park located in:
- Gatlinburg, Tennessee - via US-441 South
- Townsend, Tennessee - via TN Route 73 - East
- Cherokee, North Carolina - via US-441 North
Grandfather Mountain - Linville, North Carolina
Grandfather Mountain, with an elevation of 5,964 feet, is the highest of the Blue Ridge Mountain peaks. A popular tourist attraction, partly because of its 228-ft long Mile High Swinging Bridge over an 80-ft chasm, Grandfather Mountain is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve with 16 distinct ecological communities situated in an area of less than 5,000 acres.
The peak wildflower blooming season begins in March, peaks in April and May, and continues through the summer into early fall. Special nature programs are scheduled throughout the season including:
- Naturalist Weekend in mid-May
- Nature Photography Weekend in late May - early June
- The Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble in early June
Getting to Grandfather Mountain - The entrance to Grandfather Mountain is located on US 221, two miles north of Linville and one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 305.
More about Grandfather Mountain wildflowers on Page 2