Where to Spot Blooms
Rhododendrons grow across the country but thrive in the South. Two of the most popular places to enjoy spring and summer blooms are throughout the Great Smoky Mountains and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The mountainous hillsides are covered in rhododendrons that thrive among the shady forests at higher elevations.
A drive along the park’s Newfound Gap Road is a great way to see thousands of blooms at varying elevations. This 33-mile road is the only route that follows the entire stretch of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At lower elevations, the rhododendron blooms will be white. As the road’s elevation increases, blooms become progressively brighter and pinker. Along the way, you’ll pass walking trails and picnic spots perfect for spontaneous day-trip adventures and photos.
We recommend Andrews Bald Trail for rhododendron chasing in the Smokies. This moderate 3.5 mile hike winds along a meadow filled with rhododendrons and wildflowers. The last part of the trail levels off at Andrews Bald. The bald is a great place to take in views of the mountains and flowering hillsides. It’s also the perfect spot for a picnic!
Another popular rhododendron destination is at nearby Roan Mountain State Park. In peak bloom, Roan Mountain is covered in pink blooms as far as the eye can see. Roan Mountain has numerous hiking trails and campsites available among the rhododendrons. There’s even a rhododendron festival at the mountain's base each summer!
Finally, a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best ways to take in the vast Appalachian Highlands in full bloom. The most popular stop along the parkway is Craggy Gardens at milepost 364. Craggy Gardens is home to the purple Catawba rhododendron that generally blooms from early June to mid-July.
When to Spot Blooms
Catching rhododendrons in peak bloom is more of an art than a science. The good news is that rhododendrons bloom for two months so you’re likely to catch plenty of color between early June and late July.
In order to plan your trip just right, keep an eye on the weather in the weeks leading up to your visit. If it’s been warm and sunny, rhododendrons are likely to be in bloom by mid-June. If it’s been cool and overcast, rhododendrons may not reach peak bloom until late June or early July.
Next, make note of the elevation. Rhododendrons bloom at varying times depending on the elevation. Plants at lower elevations bloom first while plants at higher elevations bloom several weeks later. If you’re chasing blooms and don’t see many at first, don’t lose heart. A hike up or down the mountainside might be just the way to discover hillsides of bright, untouched flowers. (You can also check this helpful bloom calendar for updated info along the Blue Ridge Parkway.)
Time to Chase Some Blooms
Whether it’s your first trip or your tenth, chasing rhododendron blooms is a great way to kick off your summer adventures. Along the way, you’re sure to stumble upon unexpected hiking trails, winding roads, and untouched mountainsides. When you do go, don’t forget to let us know how it went so we can use your tips too. Can’t wait to see you out there among the blooms!
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