24 Feb 2019
Our Western North Carolina mountains are known for sweeping, majestic views, the remarkable change of seasons, dramatic leaf change, cool mountain breezes -- but springtime in the Asheville area brings a show of its own.
Easy Access to Blooms in Asheville
You don't have to be an avid hiker to enjoy all that nature beholds in the springtime. The Biltmore Estate is arguably one of the most popular established attractions in Asheville, and beginning in April each year, visitors of the Biltmore can enjoy the Annual Biltmore Blooms. The Biltmore gardens were originally designed by renowned landscape artist Fredrick Law Olmsted. His legacy lives on today in the formal and informal gardens which span across acres, including the Rose Garden which features over 250 varieties. During the spring months, visitors can watch the progressive growth of everything from flowering shrubs and trees, to Darwin hybrid tulip varieties in mid-April. Poppies, snapdragons, pansies, native azaleas follow suit into May. Roses and perennials begin their growth as spring transitions to summer.
The North Carolina Arboretum, located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 393, has over 65 acres of cultivated gardens which open back up for the flowering season on April 1st. Limited exhibits and indoor areas are open year-round. The Botanical Gardens of Asheville, located on UNC Asheville property, is open year round, but the Visitor Center doesn't open until March and full hours are established April through November. Mid-April through May is the recommended spring time frame to visit the Botanical Gardens which is when visitors can catch sights of Trilliums, Spring Beauties, Crested Dwarf Iris, Green and Gold, Wild Geranium.
Wildflower Varieties in Bloom By Month
Mountain weather can vary year to year and so can flower growth patterns, but in general, here is a timeline for when we've seen flower varieties grow.
- March: Daffodil, Iris, Dutchman Breeches, Spring Beauty, Yellow Violet
- April: Painted Trillium, Dogwood, Pink Lady Slipper, Dogwood, Pinkshell Azalea, Redbud, Tulip
- May: Flame Azalea, Mountain Laurel, Violet, Painted Trillium, Dogwood, Crab Apple
- June: Flame Azalea, Ox-Eyed Daisy, Rhododendron, Fire Pinks, Turkeybeard, Flame Azalea
Spotting the Colorful Rhododendron in Bloom in the Asheville Area
One of the most sought after blooms in the Asheville area is the very prevalent rhododendron plant which produces a variety of pink and purple blooms. The bloom schedule for these amazing flowers varies with weather patterns and temperature, but we've seen many years where they made their color-filled appearance anytime from early to mid-June and sometimes as early as late May. While rhododendron plants grow all over our area and are not limited to hiking trails, one popular place to spot them is off of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Craggy Gardens Trail.
If a little drive time doesn't bother you, we recommend heading over to the five-mile ridgeline that is Roan Mountain, which is part of the Pisgah National Forest. The appropriately named Rhododendron Gardens Trail includes a variety of Catawba rhododendrons that often peak toward the latter part of June. The third weekend of June is also the time when the annual Rhododendron Festival is hosted by the Roan Mountain Citizens Club. The festival delights crowds with crafts, music and rhododendron-centric activities and events right at the base of Roan Mountain.
If you're open to a longer (but worthwhile) drive, Grandfather Mountain's 1000 feet of elevation change along the trail provides a wider timeline for viewing rhododendron in bloom at a variety of elevations. They host their Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble during the first week of June to celebrate the blooming rhododendron.
While they have less of an allure than the Catawba rhododendron, the Rosebay rhododendron, also produce fluffy white flowers later in the summer, usually late July, making the months of (late May) June and July great times to view all types of rhododendron in bloom.
Wildflowers can start to bloom as early as March and extend until October, though April is usually a safe bet to start the wildflower hunt. The Blue Ridge Parkway features over 1600 species of vascular plants and 80% are wildflowers. With hiking destinations like Graveyard Fields and Craggy Gardens, you can't go wrong with a drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway. You will likely spot wildflowers on the side of this scenic drive but we also recommend getting out to experience Craggy Gardens Trail, Pinnacle Trail at Craggy Gardens and Graveyard Field loop trails. Located within even closer proximity to Asheville is Rattlesnake Lodge and the Craven Gap trail (which are located within a 5-minute drive of one another on the Parkway). Both can offer some early spring bloom sightings. Craven Gap Trail to Bull Gap, part of the Mountains to Sea Trail, offers frequent sightings of violets, trillium, azaleas.
The Joyce Kilmer Wilderness area in Smoky Mountains National Park is known for giant trees, but this is also a great hiking area to view wildflowers. Plan to take the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Loop Trail for 2 miles. From mid-March to early May you can spot Cranefly Orchids, Little Sweet Betsy, a wide variety of trilliums, violets and much more.
If you're up for a rugged and wild area to plan your hiking ventures, the Linville Gorge Wilderness is a good direction to head. Hiking around Linville Falls is a great way to combine a waterfall and wildflower hike into one. Here is a great resource with photos of the different flowers and the times of year they are typically blooming in the Linville Gorge area.
No matter your pace or style of exploring, the wildflower hunt is in full swing by April, and the options for catching sight of these beauties in Asheville are endless.