Rhododendrons Blanket the Blue Ridge Parkway

by Editor
Rhododendrons in Blue Ridge Mountains

In late spring from the end of May through June, the rhododendrons that cover the hillsides of the western North Carolina Blue Ridge mountains explode in blossoms of brilliant colors ranging from white and pastels to vibrant purple and red.

Catawba rhododendron

Catawba rhododendron / Helen Moss Davis-Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

This flowering shrub has become a symbol of the Blue Ridge Parkway and each spring tourists from across the United States head to the mountains to witness this annual spectacle.

Rhododendrons thrive in western North Carolina’s climate, and their bell-like flower clusters on the evergreen shrubs cover the hillsides in a sea of color. Ground zero for witnessing the blooms is Boone, North Carolina. Locals and visitors alike have long flocked this time of year to the mountain town, lured by these spring flowers framed by mountain views. 

There are many ways travelers can witness the rhododendron blooms in the Boone area.

Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct

Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct / Hugh Morton | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Take a drive. Visitors can find rhododendrons blooming in North Carolina along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mileposts 270 to 316, especially by Linville Falls.

Take a hike. Many area trails offer a close up view of the rhododendrons. Remember to pack a picnic.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway / Watauga TDA

Ride your bike. Yes, you can ride a bike along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the scenic views and blooms. There are many places to stop along the way. Remember you are biking in the mountains, so expect changes in elevation along the way.

Most rhododendrons originally came from the Himalayas. The word “rhododendron” means “red tree” or “rose tree.” There are nearly 800 species of rhododendron, but the Catawba (purple) rhododendron is most prevalent across the Southeast United States.


Rhododendron Ramble

Rhododendron Ramble / Catherine Morton-Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Visitors can also enjoy Grandfather Mountain and its annual Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble, a series of guided walks that allow visitors to view the blooms and also learn more information about the plant. The Ramble is held in early June each year. The 2016 Ramble is held daily at 1 p.m. from June 1-12.

Linger longer at Grandfather Mountain, the 3,200-acre jewel of western North Carolina. With 3,200 acres (2,500 acres of state park and 720 acres operated by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation), the 5,946 feet tall mountain offers beautiful scenery, hiking for all levels-including the South’s best alpine hiking trails, a Nature Museum, naturalist programs and the famed and most photographed Mile High Swinging Bridge.

Downtown Boone, NC

Downtown Boone / Michelle Ligon

The town of Boone, founded in 1872 and named as tribute to legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone, is the cultural and economic hub of northwest North Carolina. Nestled in the High Country region of the state, the mountain town is home to Appalachian State University. Located 3,333 feet high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone has a vibrant arts community and is the jumping off point for many outdoor pursuits. Visit www.exploreboone.com to plan your trip.

Featured image by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Beverly Hurley is the editor of Triangle Gardener magazine in North Carolina. When she is not gardening, she loves to travel and tour gardens.

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