Best Time & Places to See Breathtaking Flora in Jackson County, NC: A Guide for Nature Lovers
Ideally situated in the Western North Carolina mountains, Jackson County is home to rare and endangered species, colorful wildflowers and towering trees. In fact, the destination has one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the temperate world due to its elevation of 875 – 6,410 feet above sea level. With more than 1,500 species of flowering plants spread across 494 square miles of spectacular landscape, there is endless opportunity to encounter the season’s most picturesque blooms in Jackson County. We invite you to grab your hiking boots, immerse yourself in nature and discover the spectacular flora that comes alive in the spring, including:
Rhododendron (March-June) — a stunning, evergreen shrub that is known for its brilliant blooms that range in color from pure white to deep red and purple. One of the best places to find this iconic flowering plant (and see 2023 Pantone Color of the Year Viva Magenta in nature) is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,which is home to a wide variety of Rhododendron species, including the Pinxter, Catawba and Carolina. In particular, the Oconaluftee River Trail, Mingus Creek Trail, and the Clingmans Dome Trail are popular areas to see Rhododendron in bloom during the spring and early summer.
Dutchman’s Breeches (March-May) – this wildflower is known for its delicate, fern-like leaves and unique, pantaloon-shaped flowers that resemble tiny pairs of breeches hanging upside down from a clothesline. Dutchman’s Breeches prefers moist, shady habitats, and can often be found growing in the understory of deciduous forests and along the edges of streams and creeks. Whiteside Mountain Trail is a great option for those looking to spot this plant in the wild.
Mountain Laurel (May-June) — this gorgeous evergreen shrub that is known for its pink or white flowers is one of the most beloved plants in the region. The precise timing of mountain laurel flowering varies year to year based on seasonal weather patterns, but you’ll likely find them in Jackson County during May and June. Its unique bell-shaped purple or maroon flower can be discovered along the Blue Ridge Parkway,which offers stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains. The Parkway is home to several hiking trails that wind through Mountain Laurel thickets, so don’t forget your camera!
Flame Azalea (May-July) — the plant is known for its brilliant, flame-like blooms that range in color from yellow to orange to red. Native to the forests of the Southern Appalachians, the Flame Azalea typically blooms when the weather is warm and humid and in high-altitude forests and woodland meadows. Several of our hiking trails weave through where Flame Azalea is known to grow, particularly the Blue Ridge Parkway and along Whiteside Mountain. Additional locations to find this wildflower is in high elevations such as Panthertown Valley, Pinnacle Park, and near High Falls along the trail.
Turk’s Cap Lilies/ Tiger Lilies (June-August) – the trumpet-shaped flowers on this perennial flowering plant are vibrant orange in color and covered in black spots, resembling the stripes of a tiger. A real showstopper, it blooms late in the season and can grow to be four to five inches in diameter. Jackson County is home to many waterfalls, which can be excellent places to find Turk’s Cap Lilies. Trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, including Black Balsam Knob (milepost 420.2) and Richland Balsam (milepost 431.4.), are also great spots to view these upside-down blooms.
Looking for more to discover? One of the best ways to learn about our region’s unique flowers and plants is by taking an ecology tour with Adam Bigelow, owner of Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions. Choose from a half-day or full-day walk, and bring the kids, too! If you prefer to stroll solo, you can also create your own botanical excursion by picking up the Botanical Guidebook from Highland Hiker, City Lights Bookstore, or Black Balsam Outdoors.
These blooms don’t last long, so start planning your trip to Jackson County today. Visit our official Trip Planner for hiking maps as well as full details on our charming towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva. When enjoying our beautiful mountains, remember to Leave No Trace and pack your camera, so that you can capture all the beautiful blooms! Tag us in your photos on Instagram and Facebook.
Feature photo courtesy @spencervisual