From flame azaleas to rhododendrons, the Great Smoky Mountains are filled with so many glorious types of wildflowers. Check out these top wildflower trails this upcoming spring or summer.
The Appalachain Trail, which streches over 2,000 miles, from Maine to Georgia, was first proposed by Benton MacKaye as an effort to connect various parks nationally. The 2,175 mile trail crosses six national parks, including the Smokies, and it is said that to walk the length of the Trail would take over five million foot steps, a feat that over 10,000 people claim to have over the past 83 years.
The part of the trail that stretches over the Smoky Mountains is 293 miles and it is suggested to go in Late May through October as the winter months will have much snowfall and Spring time brings lots of rain. Where the Trail runs through the Smokies is known as the Roan Highlands which is home to wide open views of grassy balds, such as Hump Mountain and plentiful Rhododendron gardens. These balds are also spots which can harbor serious and dangerous weather and lightning is quite common in the summer months.
Brushy Mountain Trail
This trail is 11.8 miles roundtrip and is rated moderate. trailhead is accessed 1 mile up the Porters Creek Trail. At the top of the road, turn around to find the beginning of the Brushy Mountain Trail. This trail has frequent patches of wildflowers in the spring and several stream crossings. At 0.4 of a mile you’ll see an old home site on the right that is marked by a collapsed chimney and washtub. Elevation gain for this trail is 2,500 feet. Take note that several trails will cross this path; make sure to determine your direction using trail signs!
Cove Hardwoods Nature Trail
One of the shorter wildflower trails, this 0.8 of a mile loo is located inside the Chimney’s Picnic Area, provides easy access to a stand of old-growth forest, as well as wonderful wildflower viewing opportunities in the spring. Take a quick hike and then head to a picnic table for a relaxing meal. Simply drive up Newfound Gap Road/US-441 to the Chimney’s Picnic Area and then look for parking on the right almost immediately upon entering this area. The trailhead is above the parking lot.
Gregory Ridge Trail
This trail is 4.9 miles one way and is rated moderate with an elevation gain of 2,700 feet. The trailhead is located at the end of Forge Creek Road. This trail is one of the most popular routes to get to Gregory Bald, which, in the spring is a patchwork quilt of blooming azalea. The Gregory Ridge Trail begins by leading around the base of a ridge through lush rhododendron and mountain laurel, both adding to the spring and summer floral display for which this trail is famous. Also, at 0.3 of a mile you will see where Bower Creek spills down to join Forge Creek.
Little River, Cucumber Gap, & Jake’s Creek Loop
This trail is a 5.1 mile, one way loop, rated easy, with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet. The trailhead is located in Elkmont at the road fork, 2.3 miles from the Little River Road turnoff. Parking at the turnaround or along the side of the road is an option. This relatively easy walk on an old roadbed that keeps company with the Little River most of the way is a nice day hike for families and is pretty year round.
The road you follow into Elkmont is the old route of the Little River Railroad, part of the Little River Lumber Company, a major logging enterprise during the time when the forest was cut for lumber. Along the road you will pass the site of the Wonderland Hotel on the left. Built by the Wonderland Park Company, the hotel opened in 1912 to serve people riding the logging train into the mountains. Along your hike occasional benches invite you to stop and enjoy the sunshine on the violets, spring beauty, hepatica, and anemones in spring.
Porter’s Creek Trail
This trail is 3.7 miles one way and is rated easy and one of the more popular wildflower trails. Head east from Gatlinburg on US-321, turn south at 5.9 miles into Greenbrier. The road follows along the west side of the Little Pigeon River and becomes gravel in one mile. Continuing straight, you’ll pass a picnic area on the left and then reach the end of the road and the beginning of Porters Creek Trail. This is an outstanding trail for wildflowers! In March and April you’ll find bloodroot, trillium, May apple, trout lily, chickweed, phlox, spring beauty, and toothwort. Elevation for this trail is 1,550 feet.
Ramsey Cascade Trail
This trail is 8 miles roundtrip and rated moderate. trailhead access for Ramsay Cascade is found by turning left at 3.2 miles along the Greenbrier Road. This road follows along the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River for 1.5 miles until it is blocked; this is the trailhead for Ramsay Cascades. The trail begins at the end of the parking lot area and soon crosses the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River on a wooden bridge. You’ll gradually ascend through large boulders and a forest of hemlock and mixed hardwood along an old roadbed with a stream on the right. Elevation gain for this trail is 2,200 feet.
Russell Field Trail
This trail is 5 miles one way and is rated moderate with an elevation gain of 2400 feet. The trailhead is located at the back of the Cades Cove Picnic Area or 1.5 miles down the Anthony Creek Trail. This short trail serves to connect the Anthony Creek Trail with the Appalachian Trail to form a backpacking loop while passing Russell Field.
Snake Den Ridge Trail
This trail is 5.3 miles one way and is rated moderate. The trailhead is located in Cosby Campground, in the southeast corner, at campsite B55. Walk up the gravel road and the trail joins a horse trail from the left that is a connector trail with the Low Gap Trail. Along this road you’ll walk through second-growth deciduous forest, and in the fall, the woods are draped in brilliant reds and yellows. The trail climbs up the ridge of Snake Den Mountain through a series of switchbacks.
At 2.4 miles, an overlook provides a view of Cosby Cove. Continuing straight ahead, the Snake Den Ridge Trail passes spruce and fir as it reaches the crest of the mountain range at 5.3 miles and joins the Appalachian Trail at Inadu Knob.
Sugarland Valley Nature Trail
The Sugarland Valley Nature Trail was built in 1993 to provide a paved, flat trail into the woodlands of the Smokies. This 3,000 foot loop allows visitors requiring handicap access a chance to see historical remains and a beautiful river while experiencing nature all around them. Stop by the Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up special media which can guide visitors along the trail. The trailhead is located 1/4 mile up Newfound Gap/US-441 from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.