|Blossoming dogwoods announce the arrival of spring.|
There is something magical about springtime in the mountains, as the shroud of winter is slowly discarded to reveal the budding of greenery and color, as if Mother Nature herself has awakened from a long winter’s nap. With great hotel rates and incentives still in effect, now is the perfect time to plan your spring fling to the Smokies and along the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.
Sometimes referred to as the “Wildflower National Park,” the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity—over 1,660 kinds of flowering plants are found in the park, more than in any other North American national park. The peak of spring wildflower blooming usually occurs in mid- to late-April at lower elevations in the park, and a few weeks later on the highest peaks.
|Springtime births flora and fauna alike.|
A group of flowers known as spring ephemerals are the first to emerge from winter. Ephemerals are so named because they appear above ground in early spring, then flower, fruit and die back within a short two-month period. They emerge from February through April and are dormant by May or June.
The ephemerals bloom just before the trees green, when full sunlight can reach the forest floor. Spring ephemerals include flowers such as trillium (the park has 10 different species), lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, columbine, bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, little brown jugs and violets, just to name a few.
Many trees and shrubs bloom throughout the year, too. From February through April, the flowers of red maples paint the mountains with a wash of brilliant red. Showy trees such as serviceberry, silverbell, flowering dogwood, redbud, Fraser magnolia and tuliptree soon follow.
Closer to the ground on shrubs, the small, bright-yellow blossoms of spicebush begin to bloom in February and are soon joined by sweetshrub, dog-hobble and flame azalea. The park is famous for its displays of mountain laurel, rhododendron and flame azaleas. The lovely pink and white flowers of mountain laurel bloom in early May through June. Catawba rhododendron, which lives primarily at elevations above 3,500 feet, reaches its peak of bloom in June. Flame azaleas bloom at the low and mid-elevations in April and May.
|Atahualpa performs at Dollywood’s Festival of Nations. Photo by: Dollywood|
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surrounding areas, festivals begin to bloom, too. Celebrations of Appalachian food, art and culture make the perfect complement to the colorful springtime displays of Mother Nature.
A Mountain Quiltfest
March 10-14, Pigeon Forge, TN
With a nod to the time-honored Appalachian tradition of quiltmaking, the 16th annual A Mountain Quiltfest is expected to draw more than 20,000 visitors to Pigeon Forge. Featuring music and food, Quiltfest brings hobbyists and experts together to learn new techniques during instructional workshops and lectures. Works will be on display, and the best quilters in the nation will compete in a multi-category quilt show.
Dollywood’s Festival of Nations
April to early May
Pigeon Forge, TN
The 10th annual Festival of Nations treats Dollywood guests to a world of international dance, music, artistry, food and crafts with more than 200 international performers from far-away lands. Past features have included Le Grand Cirque and the show Imagine; the Czech Pilsen Brass Band (a youth ensemble); Keona, a unique act from Switzerland; Atahualpa, from Ecuador, offered South American traditional songs and dance; the Royal Stilt Walkers of Belgium performed music and dance on stilts; and many more. The 25th Annual Dolly’s Homecoming Parade will be held on May 7.
|Brilliant spring blooms draw attention and admiration in the Walled Garden at the Biltmore Estate. Photo by: The Biltmore Company|
Festival of Flowers
April 3-May 16, Asheville, NC
This year, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its Festival of Flowers. Spring decorates the grounds with thousands of tulips and azaleas. Stroll trails lined with wildflowers, and enjoy impressive floral displays throughout the 250-room interior of the Biltmore House, often called an American castle. The lush formal and informal gardens were designed by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. From the formal beauty of the Italian Garden, to America’s first managed forests, to the All America Rose Garden (featuring more than 250 varieties of roses), spring is alive at the Biltmore Estate.
Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage
April 21-25, Gatlinburg, TN
The 60th annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage is a five-day event in Great Smoky Mountains National Park consisting of a variety of wildflower and fauna, plus natural history walks, motorcades, photographic tours, art classes and indoor seminars. Most programs are outdoors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while indoor offerings are held in various venues throughout Gatlinburg.
Spring Festival & Old Timers Day
April 30-May 1, Townsend, TN
The 18th annual Spring Festival and Old Timers Day will feature Appalachian culture, bluegrass music performances and jam sessions, authentic Southern BBQ, arts, crafts and mountain heritage. Also featured is the popular Young Pickers Talent Contest. The event celebrates the unique and enduring heritage of Townsend, Blount County and the Great Smoky Mountains.
More in the Smokies
Want to learn more? There’s a great deal of information available at the National Park Service’s website, nps.gov, on Great Smoky Mountains National Park and all your favorite parks. In the Smokies, park rangers recommend these walks for viewing wildflowers. In addition to wild flowers, the park also boasts numerous blooming shrubs. For an in depth trail map and guide, download this PDF. Enjoy!