By Holly Scott, Marketing Director
On a recent ‘Get On the Trail with Friends & Missy‘ hike in Elkmont, several of my hiking companions complimented me for being a fairly competent identifier of spring wildflowers as we trekked along the Little River- Cucumber Gap- Jakes Creek Loop. I had to give credit to Genia Stadler for sending me dozens of named images each year from her wildflower walks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It all started back in June of 2011 when she accidentally sent me an email meant for someone else in her friend/family circle, and included was a lovely image of the high elevation rhododendron blooming at Roan Mountain State Park. Thus began our correspondence and the beginning of an image archive here at Friends of the Smokies documenting her trail travels with her husband, Gary.
7 Favorite Spring Wildflower Hikes in the Smokies
Q- Genia, how do you decide where you’re going when you’re ready for a wildflower walk on a spring day?
A- It’s an elevation thing. I know early in the spring the flowers are going to be starting at the lower elevations, and then I can see those flowers again at the higher elevations in late spring. plus some early summer flowers as well.
Q- When do you start?
A- I always start with Porter’s Creek at the end of March, regardless of how harsh the winter’s been. There’s always something peeking its little head up. I’m rarely disappointed. There’s such a variety there. I love the early violets.
Q- When you go out, is there anything special you look for?
A- I look for things I haven’t seen before. I have yet to find a Lily of the Valley. That’s my flower for this year. Last year, it was dwarf ginseng, which we found along the trail on the way to the waterfall at Porter’s Creek.
Q- What are your favorite wildflower walking trails in the Park?
A- Porter’s Creek- I never get tired of Porter’s Creek. Of course, that first little section of Chestnut Top is incredible. A lot of pretty flowers bloom along Abrams Falls. Kanati Fork this year had the highest concentration of anything that I’ve seen so far with the trout lillies.
In mid- to late-spring, I like to go up the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to the Sweat Heifer Trail and then come out at Kephart Prong. Because of the elevation, you see the early spring wildflowers, plus you see some you never see anywhere else, and as you come out down at Kephart Prong you see the late spring flowers.
Q- Do you take 2 cars to do that one? Leave one at Newfound Gap and one at Kephart Prong trailhead?
A- Yes. It’s not for the faint of heart at 8 miles, but it’s a little bit of everything to enjoy in the Smokies. Beautiful views…it’s not difficult, but it’s a long hike. Of course if you reverse it, and start at Kephart, it would be uphill the whole way, if you really want a challenge.
Q- Any others?
A- The Little River Trail. This year, we hike the Middle Prong out of Tremont, and it was a great trail. We saw tons of flowers! It was covered in wild ginger.
Q- Do you have a favorite spring wildflower?
A- One of my favorites is the Rose Twisted Stalk. It’s not very big, but it’s a gorgeous little flower. I also love the Dwarf Ginseng.
Q- Why wildflowers? Do you take pictures of other things?
A- I take pictures of everything in the Park- landscapes, animals, snails. I send you the flowers! I bet people forget that we have flowers that bloom up here right up ’til winter. The fall flowers are gorgeous and the summer ones are too.
Stay tuned for more of Genia’s wildflower photography later this spring & summer. You can always see her latest pictures on our Facebook page.