Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spring Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains

What a blessing retirement is!   We were able to go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a Monday and Tuesday when the wildflowers were near their peak and the crowds were low.   I took 360 photos in two days and have selected 22 to share online.  Each photo shows a different variety of plant or flower, which will give you and idea of the diversity of blooms we found.   The one exception is a photo of a bear cub coming down a tree after an afternoon nap in the branches.

We hiked a trail we have driven past over a hundred times but never hiked.   The Chestnut Top Trail starts near the Townsend Tennessee park entrance.   We found the first half mile on that trail was one of the best wildflower trails we have been on.   After that, the flowers thinned out a bit, which was a good thing.   It probably took an hour to go the first half mile because I was continuously stopping to shoot the next flower.  We saw flowers along the entire length of the trail, including more Lady Slippers that we had ever seen before.   These were about a week from peak bloom.
Pink Lady Slipper

Fire Pink and Dwarf Crested Iris
Our destination was White Oak Sinks.  We've been there three times before, but we always took the shorter Schoolhouse Gap Trail.  This day we ended up hiking about 12 miles round trip.  Probably not the smartest thing to tackle as the first hike of the year and we were dead tired when we finished.

White Oak Sinks is a paradise for wildflower lovers.   We found it was a bit past peak when we got there.   Also, the park service has closed off the area around the cave and the waterfall to protect the bats from White Nose Syndrome.   I don't think the waterfall will be closed off all year.  Check with the park service before going.

We also visited several spots along the Little River Road and spent some time at the Chimneys Picnic Area, which is always a good spot for wildflowers.

Bear Cub After His Nap
On our way down from the Chimneys Picnic Area, we ran into a crowd of cars and people along the road.  Anyone who has been in the park knows that is a sure sign of wildlife near the road.   We stopped and found a mother and two cubs.   They were difficult to see because of the brush and trees but I was able to get one shot of this cub making his way down the tree.   He was sleeping high in the tree when we got there.   One concerned park visitor was afraid he was stuck in the tree and wanted me to use my zoom lens to check on him.  We told her that bears sleep in the trees and he was just having his afternoon nap.   I'm not sure we convinced her, but he did come down safely.

We had a great two days and am looking forward to spending more time in nature.

Be sure to check out all twenty-two photos here.