For some, wildflowers seem exotic and hard to find. And in a way, that’s true. Many wildflowers have specific preferences, even requirements, for habitat—and staunchly refuse to grow anywhere else. For that reason, they can seem hidden and inaccessible.
But you don’t always have to hike for hours over remote terrain to discover wildflowers. The trick is to keep your eyes open and know where to find them. Just last weekend our family was hiking on a well-known trail loop near where we live. Although not the most popular one for tourists, it is often used by visitors to the Deep Creek entrance of Great Smokies National Park.
The entire loop distance is under five miles–but we hadn’t been on the (mostly flat) trail for more than half a mile before we saw a favorite plant that favors shade in undisturbed places: the wild geranium. Growing in masses the bank by the path, its pink blossoms waved in the breeze above its luxuriant, sharp-pointed foliage. We certainly could have turned around at that point, but after hiking up and over the ridge about two miles farther, we found several pink lady slippers, thriving in acid soil and sheltered by pines, right next to the trail. These delicate orchids like to grow in groups, and are always a thrill for us to see.
It happened to be a lovely, blue-sky day. But even if it the weather hadn’t been perfect, spotting those spring wildflowers would have made the walk worth it. And they were closer than we expected, allowing us to catch a glimpse of their brief bloom before they fade into the heat of summer.
For more on hiking at Deep Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, see p. 242 of Danny Bernstein’s Hiking the Carolina Mountains, where she mentions the hike we took as a shorter alternative to her recommended 13-mile hike.