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Stalking the Wild, Elusive Oconee Bells


Oconee Bells are blooming now. This elusive early spring wildflower is found only in a few locations in Upstate South Carolina and just over the border in North Carolina—mostly in the Jocassee Gorges region. If you want to see them, you need to get outdoors within the next couple of weeks or the opportunity is lost until a year from now.

So–where do you go and what do you look for? These flowers are rare, which means your chances for success are pretty small. However, knowing their habitat can help. Oconee Bells like moist, cool, shady environments—like along the banks of a small stream. Take a hike on South Carolina’s Foothills Trail, along the back side of Lake Jocassee and you’re bound to spot some. Try the section between Canebrake Trail and Bear Creek in Gorges State Park or hike east from the Bad Creek trailhead near Whitewater Falls. Both of these options require a long day of hiking or a night out, but the satisfaction of finding a display in the wild is hard to equal.

Don’t want to go to so much trouble? Still want to see an Oconee Bell? Head over to South Carolina’s Devils Fork State Park and take a walk around the mile-long Oconee Bells Nature Trail, where they are found in abundance. Or if you waited too long, drive up to Highlands, North Carolina and stroll the trails at the Nature Center there. You’ll find a small grouping of Oconee Bells that bloom later in April, as well as a host of other wildflowers found in the region.

For complete directions to the trailheads for South Carolina’s Foothills Trail, we recommend Scott Lynch’s Hiking South Carolina’s Foothills Trail.


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