12 Apr 2023
After months of cold weather and dark days, the sun is finally out, and the wildflowers are blooming. So, what better way to embrace the glorious days of spring than with a good old-fashioned wildflower hunt? Unsurprisingly, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great place to start, as it features over 1,600 species of vascular plants—80% of which are wildflowers!
Of the over 1,250 species of flowering plants on the BRP, May Apple, Trillium, Bloodroot, Dogwood, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bluets, Wild Columbine, Bleeding Heart, and Fire Pink are among the many flowers to make their appearance in spring (late April and May). While you'll certainly spot wildflowers like Birdfoot Violet and Black-eyed Susan on the roadsides along the way, we'd recommend getting out to hike and experience the trails up close and personal. So, in honor of spring and National Celebrate Trails Day (Saturday, April 22), we’ve made a list of 5 epic spring hikes to try during your trip to Western North Carolina:
Pink Beds Trail
While this trail was originally named for the burgeoning pink wildflowers that grew here in the spring, due to reforesting, “Pink Beds” is now more green than pink. However, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are still somewhat plentiful in the summer, and there’s a chance you could spot the rare Swamp Pink flower (aka Helonias). This whimsical flower fit for a Dr. Suess story only grows in a few locations in the southern
Appalachians and thrives in the mountain bogs found in this valley. Pink or not, this trail is home to many other wildflowers of varying hues which makes it a haven for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
This area of Pisgah National Forest is known as the “Cradle of American Forestry,” so in addition to wildflowers, you’ll also encounter babbling creeks, densely wooded areas, and blankets of ferns along the forest floor. This 5-mile loop trail is four miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway on US 276 (Forest Heritage Scenic Byway) and stays pretty level throughout making it the perfect choice across all skill levels.
Rainbow Falls (Turtleback Falls and Hidden Falls)
Rainbow Falls is a moderate 1.7-mile (approximately 3.4-mile roundtrip) hike that leads to an impressive 150-ft waterfall that rushes down a near-vertical cliff in the Nantahala National Forest near Gorges State Park. Surrounded by a lush forest and wildflower-covered meadow, the waterfall tumbles into a deep pool of water shrouded by mist guaranteed to cool you down after your hike. This waterfall gets its name from when the sun is angled right and creates colorful rainbows at the base of the falls.
Located in the Pisgah National Forest (adjacent to Gorges State Park) Rainbow Falls is just one of a series of waterfalls on a two-mile stretch of the river. A quarter-mile upstream from Rainbow Falls you’ll find Turtleback Falls, a popular natural water slide, and less than a quarter-mile downstream is Hidden Falls, a not-so-secret but serene swimming hole. Rainbow Falls is prized for its ability to be experienced from every angle, and it’s also a great spot for an afternoon picnic.
Laurel River Trail
This 3.6-mile trail (7.2-mile roundtrip) near Hot Springs in Pisgah National Forest is one of the easiest (and flattest) hikes in our area, but it doesn’t skip out on stunning mountain scenery. There’s a large roadside parking area, and the trail begins in the woods to the left. The trail follows a gravel road for close to a mile before narrowing as you enter Pisgah National Forest territory. As you stroll alongside Big Laurel Creek, you’ll hear the sound of the river rushing around the bends, and you’ll see boulders tucked in along the banks.
These boulders make for the perfect spot to bask in the sun. The river’s edge also has an abundance of trees close together, making it an ideal spot for hammocking.
While it offers something beautiful in every season, it’s especially popular in early spring due to its flourishing wildflowers blooming against the deep forest green backdrop. If you visit during the late spring or summer, we recommend taking a dip in the clear pools! You can also fish and mountain bike along this trail. You’re likely to see Trillium, Turkey Tail Mushrooms (which is not a flower, but still an intricately beautiful and welcomed sight), White Rhododendron, and Cardinal Flower (both blue and red varieties).
Sam Knob (and optional Flat Creek Trail)
Sam Knob is a 2.5-mile round-trip hike that makes a wonderful alternative to the increasingly popular Black Balsam Knob, as it is accessed from the same parking lot. The trail travels through an enchanting forest before opening onto an expansive meadow surrounded by towering alpines. Don’t be surprised if you’re inspired to break out into a Sound of Music number. Once you’re through the meadow, the trail will split, with the left side taking you to the Flat Laurel Creek trail.
This is a great add-on option that will allow you to loop back to the parking area at its conclusion for a total of 5.3 miles. This trail enters a vast meadow with Sam Knob looming above you and wildflowers brimming across the landscape, and it eventually passes a mountain bog and reaches Flat Laurel Creek.
Take a right at the intial fork to head up to the Sam Knob summit. This trail climbs up through a balsam-fir forest for approximately 0.6 miles with a few switchbacks and wooden steps in the more steep areas. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking mountain views that include glimpses of Devil’s Courthouse, Black Balsam Knob, and Shining Rock Wilderness. Some of the wildflowers you’re likely to encounter on these hikes include Lavender Aster, Heal-All, Red Clover, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Wildcat Rock Trail
This trail features a series of landmarks as you climb toward the summit of Bearwallow Mountain including a stunning waterfall, gorgeous views from a rock outcrop, and an idyllic ridgeline glade. There’s some leeway on the distance of the trail. It’s roughly 1 mile to the 100-ft Little Bearwallow Falls (2 miles round-trip), 2 miles to Wildcat Rock (4 miles round-trip), 3 miles to the ridgeline meadow on Little Bearwallow Mountain (6 miles round-trip), and 5 miles to the Bearwallow Mountain summit (10 miles round-trip) with its panoramic views.
You can also reach Wildcat Rock Trail by hiking the 1-mile trail from the Bearwallow Mountain Trailhead to the summit and then following the trail as it leaves the huge open pasture and enters the forest. With a wealth of wildflowers to spot along the way, you may catch glimpses of Catesby's Trillium, Showy Orchis, Dwarf Crested Iris, Buttercup, and Bull Thistle.
While a wildflower hunt is always fun, there are also plenty of other ways to enjoy these spring sensations. Check out Biltmore Blooms at the iconic Biltmore Estate, stroll atop the quirky offbeat Flowering Bridge in Lake Lure, or zen out in the Asheville Botanical Gardens. For those who want to bring the outside in, there are also adorable flower farms throughout our region that will allow you to bring your own specially-curated bouquet home.
Book A Spring Escape
There’s no better time to stop and smell the flowers (aka book an Asheville getaway). As you've learned, our region is renowned for its breathtaking wildflower blooms during the spring and summer seasons and its impressive trail system.
By reserving a cabin in the Asheville area, you can ensure convenient access to our area’s top hiking trails and enjoy homes with amenities like gourmet kitchens, game rooms, and stunning mountain views which are sure to enhance your already amazing trip!