Every year, just before the trees leaf and the shrubs turn to blankets of green, the Smoky Mountains put on some of the best wildflower shows around. You can drive on I-40 cutting through the mountains and catch a glimpse of the splendor, but the real beauty comes on those long, winding hikes that lead to open meadows full of wildflowers and color-filled trees.
While the blooming season is well underway, the best part about spring and summer in the Smokies is that you’re never really too late. Starting in late March the first glimpse of color speckles the hills and opens the door to more than 1,600 flowering species that show off all the way through mid to late July. We put together a list of our four favorite wildflower hikes in the Smokies that will fill your day with color and fresh air.
1. Gregory Bald Trail
Known for its June show of azaleas, the Gregory Bald Trail is one of the best on the list. It’s about a five mile climb (11 miles roundtrip) up to Gregory Bald, a 10-acre grassy meadow that opens up to a gorgeous view of flame-like flowers and the surrounding peaks. The bald is maintained by the park, and it is unknown whether the clearing is natural or created by early settlers.
The first few miles are fairly flat but once you pass the campsite, that’s when the trekking kicks in. You’ll hike up to about 2,000 feet before reaching the Gregory Bald Trail junction. Once there take a right and you’ll be climbing for one last push to reach those unbelievable views.
2. Andrews Bald
The highest bald in the Smokies, Andrews Bald sits at a little over 6,000 feet. The hike, however, is a 3.5 mile roundtrip trek and with the maintenance provided by the park, the once rocky and treacherous hike is now one of the easier climbs. Similar to Gregory, Andrews is known for its late spring / early summer show of azalea and rhododendron blooms, but coupled with the view that stretches as far as you can see, this hike is not to be missed.
To reach the trailhead, you’ll park at the ever-so-popular Clingmans Dome. You’ll descend at first to the southern part of the area, also known as Forney Ridge, and then instead of taking off to the right to meet up with the Appalachian Trail, you’ll stay left. There will be another junction where you'll steer left, and then you’ll start to reach the bald.
3. Chestnut Top Trail
This 4 mile hike which dead-ends at the Schoolhouse Gap Trail offers beautiful bloom views within the first few hundred feet of the trailhead. The first mile is a good climb and has some of the best flower spotting along the route. Chestnut Top starts showing color as early as the beginning of March. But if you’ve missed the early spring blooms, the dense foliage that the trail winds through is ever-changing and constantly sprouting through the end of summer.
4. Rich Mountain Loop
Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas in the national park and can leave the roads blocked with traffic during high tourist months. Rich Mountain Loop intersects the popular meadow at the beginning of the hike, but you get to skip the traffic all the while enjoying the beauty of the Smokies in spring and summer. The first mile and a half of the trail is easy and has the most diverse scene of flowers out of the list starting in mid April and lasting through late May. Although, like all of these hikes, the blooms don’t really stop until late summer. After the first couple of miles, the climb sets in and after three and a half miles you’ll want to take a right onto Indian Grave Gap Trail and follow that trail until you reach a sign for the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail, roughly six miles in. Taking that to the right will complete the loop and bring you passed Crooked Arm Falls back down into Cades Cove.