Categories: CampingDestinations

Top Wildflower Hikes in the Great Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park glows every shade of green in spring and early summer, its lush forest landscape featuring a wild mix of ferns, mosses, creeks, and waterfalls.

Vibrant wildflowers and fiery shrubs add pops of color, kicking up the aesthetic appeal. Wildflowers bloom year-round here, but you’ll get the most colorful show from mid-March through May. Azaleas and rhododendron shrubs do their best work on high-elevation meadows in June.

And wildflower newbies, take note: More than 1,500 kinds of plants blossom in the park, more than in any other US national park. To get a handle on all that blooming awesomeness on the TennesseeNorth Carolina border, consider attending the park’s annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. Slated for May 1–4 in 2024, the pilgrimage is a week-long celebration with guided hikes, wildlife watching, and loads of nature programming.

If you’re looking to join the wildflower watch this spring, here are five top wildflower trails in the Great Smoky Mountains to get you started. If you’re not so savvy on species, download a plant identifier app like iNaturalist or PictureThis to identify any plant you see on your hike.

Photo by Joshua Bedford
Photo of wild geraniums by Blue Ridge Kitties

Porters Creek Trail

  • Route length: 4 miles round-trip
  • When to visit: Late March through April

March isn’t too early for wildflower viewing in the Great Smokies—you just need to stick to low- and mid-elevation trails. The Porters Creek Trail, which climbs gently through a once-bustling farming community, is a wildflower hotspot come early spring. The creek-crossing footpath ribbons past crumbling old farmsteads, a small graveyard, and a 40-foot-high waterfall. Scores of wildflower species line the trail, including white trilliums, yellow trilliums, spring beauties, bloodroots, trout lilies, wild geranium, and the dwarf-crested iris. White-fringed phacelia, a five-petaled white flower, clusters in colonies resembling snow-dappled fields. The trail extends beyond the waterfall, but your best bet for wildflowers is during the first 1.5 miles or so. The trailhead is in the Greenbrier area of the park six miles east of Gatlinburg

Photo by Dan Becker
Photo by white rhododendrons by Hipcamp Photographer Caroline Whatley

Middle Prong Trail

  • Route length: 4 miles round-trip
  • When to visit: April

It’s a wildflower-palooza on this moderate trail that unfurls along a railroad bed used by a logging camp in the 1930s. The trail begins at a bridge near the start of the Middle Prong of the Little River, at the confluence of the Lynn and Thunderhead prongs. As you walk beside mossy rocks and the tumbling waters of Lynn Prong, look for violets, toothwort, trilliums and foamflowers, whose leafless stems are spiked with small white flowers. You might also see a jack-in-the-pulpit, whose dark leaves form a pulpit around a cluster of small flowers. Waterfalls and remnants of the logging operations also border the trail. The hike is 4.1 miles one-way, but the first two miles are all you’ll need for a satisfying wildflower walk. The trail begins at the end of Tremont Road.

Photo by Stephen Ellis
Photo by Thomas Quince

Rich Mountain Loop

  • Route length: 8.5-mile loop
  • When to visit: May through July

If you brake for loop hikes, mountain laurel, and mountain climbs, this three-trail hike is for you. Beginning just past the entrance to the 11-mile loop road around the meadows of Cades Cove, this moderate hike showcases a variety of wildflowers and shrubs—what’s blooming just depends on altitude. The Rich Mountain Loop Trail meanders along a forest creek, stopping by a 19th-century cabin before climbing Rich Mountain. At the top, you’ll join the Indian Grave Gap Trail, which beelines east along a narrow mountaintop ridge. Look for mountain laurel here in May, and keep an eye out for flame azaleas with orange blooms in June and July. The trail then crashes down the mountain on the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Other flowers to watch for on this hike are galax, violets, and rhododendrons, while daffodils bloom across Cades Cove in spring.

Photo by Scott Basford
Photo of pink rhododendron by Zhen Z.

Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald

  • Route length: 3.6 miles round-trip
  • When to visit: Mid-June to early July

Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, which stretches for more than 2,000 miles on its lofty journey between Georgia and Maine. Escape the summit mayhem on the Forney Ridge Trail, which drops from the parking area into a red spruce and fir forest. The trail then climbs briefly before a final descent to the 5,800-foot Andrews Bald. Like Gregory Bald below, this treeless, high-elevation meadow is maintained as an open space by the park. The mountain-and-valley views are similarly stupendous. Typically found above 3,500 feet, Catawba rhododendrons bloom in shades of pink and lavender in mid- to late June, and you’ll also see orange flame azaleas. Blueberries ripen here in August.

Photo by Nicholas Turland
Photo of mountain laurel by Heather S. at The Falls at Sewanee Creek, TN

Gregory Ridge Trail to Gregory Bald

  • Route length: 11 miles round-trip
  • When to visit: Late June to early July

This trail kicks off with a pleasant two-mile ramble through the forest along Forge Creek on the Gregory Bald Trail. Look for rhododendrons and mountain laurel blooming trailside in spring and summer. After two miles, you’ll enter an old-growth forest and start a huff-and-puff climb to the bald. Enjoy lofty views of Cades Cove from the stone outcrop above Campsite 12, then pass more mountain laurel as your ascent continues. Join the Gregory Bald Trail at five miles for the steep push to the meadow on the summit. With the flame azaleas blooming white, pink, orange, yellow, and red—and the Southern Appalachians unfurling in every direction on the horizon—this hard-won view is a showstopper. Begin at the Forge Creek Road parking area.


Photo by Tim B. at the Campgrounds at Little Switzerland, NC

More springtime feelings for you

Spring is in the air—get inspired for your next camping trip as the snow melts and the blooms are budding.

Amy writes about travel, adventure, and the outdoors from her home in Lexington, Virginia, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. She has written or co-written more than 50 guidebooks for Lonely Planet. Her articles and essays have appeared in Backpacker, Sierra, Southern Living, Women’s Health, the Washington Post and online at bbc.com, horizonguides.com, theknot.com, and lonelyplanet.com.

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