Any wildflower lover has to take a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here you’ll find the most impressive selection of wildflowers in any U.S. national park, with flowers blooming throughout most of the year.
When spring comes to the Smokies, you can see it in the wide array of colorful, delicate, and spectacular wildflowers that burst into bloom.
No wonder the park hosts a Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage each year, to celebrate the arrival of the flowering season!
Planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? We can’t cover every wildflower you might get to see (that would be quite a list), but we have put together a guide to some of the most common and the most delightful blooms.
1. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis)
Bloodroot starts blooming in early spring. You can recognize it by the narrow white petals that ring a burst of bright yellow stamen. The leaves are deep-lobed with heavy veins.
Bloodroot gets its name from the orange-red sap that’s found in the roots. This sap was frequently used as a dye by Native Americans.
Bloodroot often carpets sections of the forest floor on the lower elevation trails, with the first flowers coming through in March.
Some trails to spot it on include the Cove Hardwood Self-Guided Nature Trail, Chestnut Top, and the Porters Creek Trail.
2. White Trillium (Trillium Grandiflorum)
It’s always delightful to stumble on a patch of White Trillium, a spring blooming flower that is often spotted in April.
The White Trillium is distinctive for its three bell-shaped petals with frilly edges, surrounding a yellow center. As they age, the petals of the White Trillium turn slowly pink.
You can often spot the White Trillium in mid- and low-elevation areas of the park. Keep an eye out along the Chestnut Top trail and the Porters Creek trail.
White Trillium can also sometimes be seen on the Newfound Gap Road, growing on the edges of the roadside.
3. Yellow Trillium (Trillium Luteum)
Yellow Trillium is a striking flower, with quite a different look from its cousin the White Trillium. Yellow Trillium has a single flower, standing upright with three narrow and erect petals in a lemon yellow.
Inside are three sepals, and at the base are three leaves with distinctive mottled patterning. Lean in close enough, and you might catch a slight citrus scent wafting from the Yellow Trillium.
The Yellow Trillium is frequently spotted in the lower elevation areas of the park. Watch out for splashes of yellow on the Husky Gap and Chestnut Top trails. It flowers in April.
4. Crested Dwarf Iris (Iris Cristata)
The unique look of the Crested Dwarf Iris makes it a popular wildflower among hikers in the Smokies.
Each swooping sepal is a blue-purple shade, marked by a yellow crest that gives the flower its name. A central white band helps this cresting stand distinct, adding to the charm of this April bloom.
Crested Dwarf Iris can be seen in the mid- and low-elevation areas of the park. Keep an eye out on the Deep Creek trail and the Bradley Fork Trail.
5. Bishop’s Cap (Mitella Diphylla)
Clinging to the tall stem of the Bishop’s Cap is a series of bell-shaped flowers. White and lightly frilled, the drooping shape brings to mind the distinctive Bishop’s hat from which the flower takes its name.
At the base of the stem are a pair of opposing leaves, shaped similarly to the maple leaf.
You’ll want to take a close look at Bishop’s Cap, so you can spot the delicate shaping of these attractive flowers.
They’re easy to overlook in the busy growth of the Smokies, but worth a second glance! They start flowering in March, and you can spot them on mid- and low-elevation trails such as Chestnut Top.
6. Spring Beauty (Claytonia Virginica)
Take an early springtime hike through the Smokies and you might see the Spring Beauty, even if the rest of the park is still hibernating! This is an early bloomer, first popping up in the early days of March.
Spring Beauty can be recognized by its distinctive pink-striped petals. These stand out from the pale pink or white of the petal, for a charming look that brightens up the first days of spring.
Spring Beauty can be seen in many areas of the park and at various elevations.
7. Trout Lily (Erythronium Umbilicatum)
Take a look at the Trout Lily, and you just might wonder what gave this distinctive plant its fishy name.
The Trout Lily is around 7 to 8 inches tall, with a single yellow flower that droops downwards, its curving petals lifting upwards.
But the leaves have a blotchy pattern to them that resembles the brook trout — when this flower came into bloom, Cherokee Indians believed it was time to fish.
The Trout Lily can be seen throughout the park, often clustering together. It’s a striking and showy flower that brightens the paths of many trails.
8. Flame Azalea (Rhododendron Calendulaceum)
Flame Azalea is one of the stand-out wildflowers in the Smoky Mountain National Park, a bright flower that blooms with the heat of summer.
It takes its name from its vivid flowers with concentrated petals of red, orange, and yellow. These flowers cluster together at the end of a branch, creating that burning look.
The best place to see Flame Azalea changes throughout the year. In April, you’re more likely to spot it on low-elevation trails. But during June and July, you’ll want to head to high-elevation trails.
The best place to see Flame Azalea is widely regarded to be the Gregory Bald trail in June.
9. Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra Cucullaria)
Dutchman’s Breeches take their name from the white hollow spurs that reach upwards from the nodding stalk. They resemble a pair of freshly-laundered pantaloons, drying in the breeze. An unusual association, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll know!
Dutchman’s Breeches can be spotted in a wide range of the park from April and the flower is often confused with Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).
Both bloom in a similar place at a similar time, although the spurs of the Squirrel Corn have a less pants-like appearance.
10. Wild Geranium (Geranium Maculatum)
There’s a pretty charm to the Wild Geranium, with its five short and curved petals that range from bright pink to an equally vivid purple.
Each flower stands at a round 12 to 18 inches and can be spotted in mid- and low-elevation areas of the park.
Wild Geranium starts to bloom in April. It can be spotted on the Rich Mountain Loop, the Walkers Sisters Trail, and the Ace Gap. These cheerful flowers are a highlight of the spring wildflower season.
11. Thyme-Leaved Bluets (Houstonia Serpyllifolia)
You’ll typically spot Thyme-Leaved Bluets in a cluster. These are small flowers and they can be quite difficult to find on their own! Thyme-Leaved Bluets have four pale blue petals surrounding a yellow center.
Thyme-Leaved Bluets tend to bloom throughout the park. Keep an eye out for groups of delicate blue flowers as you hike the Kephart Prong Trail or the Andrews Bald Hike.
They can often be seen in May, when the early blossoms are fading and the summer blooms are getting ready.
12. White Fringed Phacelia (Phacelia Fimbriata)
A quick look at a cluster of White Fringed Phacelia, and you might think your eyes are deceiving you! Growing in groups with distinctive white edging, when White Fringed Phacelia is blanketing the forest floor, it can look like it’s started snowing!
Every White Fringed Phacelia flower has five petals, gently curved to resemble an open cup.
The petals start white, with the delicate fringing that gives them their name. But as the flower ages, the white petals can start to turn purple. Look for them on high-elevation trails in April.
13. Purple Phacelia (Phacelia Bipinnatifida)
The Purple Phacelia is among the tallest of the Phacelia, often blooming in clusters on rocks and along slopes.
As you might expect, the petals are purple, but they occasionally have a light blue hint. They stand on a hairy stem, with segmented and lobed leaves.
From a distance, Purple Phacelia can resemble Wild Geraniums. They bloom from April and May, and can be seen in mid- to low-elevation areas of the park. Try the Rich Mountain Loop or the Chestnut Top trail.
14. Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema Triphyllum)
It’s impossible to deny that Jack-in-the-Pulpit is one of the most distinctive wildflowers that can be found in the Smoky Mountains.
It’s also quite common, and as it blooms in early spring, you have a good chance of spotting one on a hike.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit has a tall, striped, and folded sheath, forming the pulpit that the Jack rises out of. Often green, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit can feature deep purple coloring on the sheath.
This is really only scratching the surface of the wildflowers you might see while exploring the Great Smoky Mountains.
There are over 1500 types of flowering plants scattered all over the Smokies, with many of the trails winding through clusters of incredible blooms.
We hope this guide has inspired you to explore the Great Smoky Mountains! Whatever trail you take, make sure to keep your eyes open for wildflowers!