Rhododendrons Call You Out To Play
Spring is the perfect time for the outdoor fun you’ve been dreaming about all winter. New, green leaves and blossoming plantlife invite you to find a trail, path or road to explore. Whether it’s big adventures or leisurely outings that excite you, North Carolina’s native rhododendrons will likely be your constant companion. These large shrubs showcase intense pink, lavender, white and purple blooms and can be found flourishing in the mountains and tucked unexpectedly into urban retreats and coastal gardens.
Go hiking, play a round of golf, ride a bike or experience the thrill of zip lining, but don’t forget to take the time to enjoy the flowers that usher in spring in North Carolina.
Rhododendrons Usher In Spring
Roan Mountain: The Roan Mountain Rhododendron National Recreation Trail features an easy, one-mile hike through the popular rhododendron gardens, which explode in color between mid-June and early July each year, drawing visitors from around the world. To time your visit with the bloom, visit roanmountain.com for updates.
Eno River State Park: Mountain laurels and Catawba rhododendrons, colorful refugees from North Carolina’s mountains, help set the scene in this Piedmont park. Twenty-one miles of hiking and the best fishing streams in the Neuse River Basin provide a respite from the rapid pace of city life.
Hanging Rock State Park: Located in Stokes County about 30 miles from Winston-Salem, this park is an ideal location for a spring picnic. Cascading waterfalls, a cool mountain lake and abundant spring color create the perfect backdrop for a leisurely lunch. The most prolific of the more than 300 varieties of flora found here include rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels and ferns. Wildflowers sprinkle the area’s bare rock shooting colors of pink, purple and yellow against the gray palate of stone.
Linville Golf Club: At this spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains golf course, how your game holds up against par means nothing compared to the incredible scenery surrounding it. Architect Donald Ross artfully carved this mountainous golf sanctuary in 1924 using mules as labor. He created a nature commune that happens to have 18 holes of golf subtly integrated into thickets of rhododendrons and meandering mountain brooks.
Oconaluftee Indian Village: Let all the stress of the modern world evaporate as you explore this re-created 1750s Cherokee village. Watch villagers hull canoes, make pottery and masks, and weave baskets and beadwork on a quiet, rhododendron-covered mountainside, only a few hundred feet from downtown.
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours: No need to travel to the tropics to fly through a rain forest. The first Canopy Tour in the North Carolina Smokies is now as close as the Nantahala Gorge, and you won't need a passport to visit. Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours offers a three-hour “glide and slide” experience that simulates flying and is fueled by gravity and a gradual elevation change. More than just a zip line ride, it takes you through multiple ecosystems; over hemlocks, and into hardwood treetops. The route takes you above the forest floor which is blanketed with mountain laurels, dogwood, fern, rhododendrons, flame azaleas, wild magnolias and many other native plants.
Cataloochee Guest Ranch: Take in the picturesque Maggie Valley mountains by horseback at Cataloochee Guest Ranch. Trail rides wind through rhododendron tunnels and lush forest paths filled with natural beauty. The ranch offers half or full-day rides for all levels of experience.
Elizabethan Gardens: Catch some of the state’s first glimpses of rhododendron blooms at the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, an oasis of natural splendor on the coast. Blooming from April until early summer, large blooms of rhododendron blanket walks of the garden. The grounds also include a children’s garden, fragrant Shakespearean herb plants, cooling woodlands and its crowning centerpiece – a sunken garden.
Drovers Road: This twenty-minute drive through Hickory Nut Gap and into Hickory Nut Gorge offers spectacular views of North Carolina’s spring color. The high steep sides of the gorge, which is about 20 miles from Asheville, are covered in a cascade of rocks, trees and rhododendrons. In spring, you may see the deep lavender blooms of the Paulownia Tree, also known as the Empress Tree, which was originally brought here by George Vanderbilt. Since first introduced, the seeds of this tree have been spread throughout the area by birds.
Big Avery Loop – Pisgah National Forest: If you’re ready for an intense test of your cycling abilities, try tackling the Big Avery Loop. This grueling 12.9-mile route features ascents over at least eight water bars, up a series of hellish rock steps called Satan’s Staircase, a harrowing ride through a rhododendron tunnel, after which you hit a track so narrow, it’s barely wider than your tire.
added: February 24, 2010
updated: May 2, 2012
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