The weather is warming up and the mountains are becoming green. That can only mean one thing – it’s springtime in the North Carolina Mountains! In Jackson County, NC, spring is one of the best times to experience the crisp, clean, and cool mountain air. Due to the area’s varying elevations and location in the heart of a temperate rainforest, Jackson County is home to a wide variety of spring wildflower blooms. In the Great Smokies alone, there are over 1,500 species of flowering plants to enjoy! Viewing options are endless and easy. Take a cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and you can see many roadside blooms all at once from the comfort of your car.
Our mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva are located about an hour west of downtown Asheville and are centrally located around the region’s must-see locations. Make us the basecamp for your adventure and see if you can find these blooms.
Mid-to-late spring brings one of the most iconic blooms to the mountains – the Rhododendron. This shrub’s iconic blooms come in several varieties, such as the Carolina, Catawba, and Pinxter Flower, all blooming at different times. The Pinkster Flower can be found the earliest from April – May. In contrast, the Carolina variety can be found between April – June, and the Catawba can mostly be spotted in June in the higher elevations. These flowers are known as a “photographer’s favorite” as many travel from all over the country to capture the perfect photo afront the bright green backdrop of the mountains.
The esteemed Mountain Laurel comes in three vivid colors – white, pink, and white & pink. This NC native bloom can be seen along the Blue Ridge Parkway from May-early June and, much like the Rhododendron, creates a lovely photo-op among the pretty pink beds.
Flame Azaleas get their name from their bright orange flower. Part of the Rhododendron family, the Flame Azalea is commonly seen within the Appalachian Mountains to which it calls home. These picturesque plants are typically in bloom along the Blue Ridge Parkway from May – June and can also be spotted in densely forested areas along mountain slopes.
Turk’s-Cap Lilies/Tiger Lilies
Turk’s-Cap Lilies go by many names such as Tiger, Carolina, or Swamp Lilies. These upside-down blooms can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway roadside near Black Balsam Knob (milepost 420.2) and Richland Balsam (milepost 431.4.) They are typically late spring – summer blooms, as they appear from June – August. These wildflowers are known to grow up to 6 feet tall with up to 40 flowers on a stem, and although they are not endangered, they are rare due to producing a small number of seeds.
The beautiful Trillium is a must-see in the spring! This three-leaf wildflower is known to be found along streams and riverbanks under shady tree canopies. Trillium can take on many colors including white, pink, maroon, purple, and the intricate Paint Brush variety with a pink “painted” line near the center. Trillium appears in early spring before the trees above begin to bloom (April – early May). Some of the best places to find this rare wildflower is in high elevations such as Panthertown Valley, Pinnacle Park, and near High Falls along the trail.
North Carolinians know “it isn’t spring until the Dogwoods are in bloom,” which occurs in mid-April – May. The state flower of North Carolina, the delightful Dogwood blooms, come in two colors, white and pink, and are often seen throughout the WNC mountains. They can be found in downtown Sylva along the “tree walk” or just as easily along the roadside.
Blooms in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With over 1,500 flowering plants within the Great Smokies, you’re sure to discover a bloom you haven’t seen before! Nestled in the southern Appalachians, the Great Smokies are known as one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the temperate world and are shared with neighboring Tennessee. Some of the best spring hikes to experience these blooms are the Oconaluftee River Trail, Mingus Creek Trail, and the Alum Cave and Mount LeConte Trails for more extreme adventurers. For those who don’t want to tackle a trailhead, keep your eyes peeled for ample wildflowers and wildlife along the roadside, such as elk, black bears, and turkey. To learn even more, make sure to check out the Oconaluftee Visitor Center where you can learn from Park Rangers about the blooms that call the Blue Ridge Mountains home.
Tours & More
One of the best ways to learn about western North Carolina blooms is to take a botanical tour with Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions. Adam Bigelow will teach you the history, stories, and more about the beautiful blooms that call our region home on his signature wildflower walks. Another fun way to get out and explore is to take a photo scavenger hunt of the flowers and plants spotted along the trail. If you’re ready to learn even more, check out the North Carolina Arboretum located in Asheville or head to Biltmore for a day trip to witness some of the best kept gardens in the country.
Other great hiking trails include Waterrock Knob (part of the mountains-to-sea trail,) Richland Balsam loop trail, Black Balsam Knob and Bear Pen Gap. Check out our full list of trails here for even more options. In the spring, on many of the trails, you can expect to find flowers and more! Head to our charming towns and enjoy locally sourced fare, shopping, our delicious Ale Trail, and so much more. With many of our events coming back this year, make sure to check out our calendar for upcoming COVID safe happenings in Jackson County. Ready for your wildflower adventure? Check out our lodging page to find the perfect stay for your getaway.