Summer blooms are starting to show up here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While the low elevations have seen many beautiful flowers come and go, the high elevations are just getting started!
There are many reasons to visit the high elevations of the Smoky Mountains in the summer months. In fact, we have many of the highest peaks in the eastern US right in the borders of our national park. Whether you prefer hiking or driving, reaching our high peaks to see beautiful summer flowers doesn’t have to be difficult.
Check out our favorite places to see summer blooms, like the sweet and delicate rhododendrons and the stunning flame azaleas.
Newfound Gap Road
Driving Newfound Gap Road to the state line is a classic tradition. The 34 mile road traverses the park and crosses two states while making its way up to a high pint of 5,046 feet. Pass through different forest types while driving up nearly 3000 feet in elevation from the bottom.
It may even feel like you’re traveling back in time a bit as you wind higher and higher up the mountain. By gaining so much elevation, you’ll see different types of plants and trees at the top than you do the bottom.
In the summer months, at the bottom of the road you’ll find lush plants and trees at the bottom. Making your way up, the spring blooms long gone from the lower elevation will put on a spectacular show.
See the pinks and whites of the blooming mountain laurel. The stunning purples of the catawba rhododendron are enough to paint entire hillsides. Finally, the striking and bold flame azalea will add a burst of color in bright orange or red.
Clingman’s Dome Road
Just south of Newfound Gap on the North Carolina and Tennessee state line, you’ll find Clingman’s Dome Road. The highest road east of the Rockies, this 7-mile stretch makes a nice cool drive on a hot summer day.
While making the drive, spotting classic black-eyed susans and jewelweed along the roadside is very common. The bright orange-red Turk’s cap lily and rhododendron put on a colorful display.
Reach the end of this road and you can walk half a mile to the top of the famous Clingman’s Dome. This distinguished peak is the highest point in Tennessee and on the entire Appalachian Trail, a nearly 2200-mile trail running from Georgia to Maine. Catch your breath at the top, only to have it taken away all over again by the expansive 100-mile views on a clear day.
Blue Ridge Parkway
On the North Carolina side of the Smokies, just outside of the town of Cherokee, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469-mile road runs from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
On the drive up, take in astonishing views of the Smoky Mountains and the valleys below. You’ll pass lots of colorful wildflowers, like fire pink and and rhododendron before seeing the flame azaleas up high.
Take this drive in the evening and drive approximately 20 miles up the Parkway to Waterrock Knob. Towering at 6293 feet in elevation, this high peak boasts the most stunning sunsets along the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Chimney Tops Trail
Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park. This recently renovated trail was devastated by the 2016 wildfires, but is recovering nicely. Fortunately, driving up to this beautiful trail and taking a short walk can provide an excellent wildflower experience.
Along the way, see the colorful crimson bee balm, the striking purple Joe-pye weed, and sweet white foam flowers.
This trail starts off gently and then getting steeper toward the top. While the entire hike is approximately 4 miles round trip, the verdant forest and the water are on the lower parts of the trail. Hiking to the top and back down gains nearly 1300 feet of elevation.
Famous for stunning views of Fontana Lake and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, Andrews Bald is a lovely moderate walk for just about any member of the family.
Drive along the highest road in the east to the Clingman’s Dome parking area. While the crowds are headed up to the top, you’ll take the Clingman’s Dome Bypass Trail to Forney Ridge Trail. Follow Forney Ridge approximately 1.75 miles out to the beautiful clearing of Andrews Bald.
Along the way, you’ll see delicate ground flowers as well. Thyme-leaved bluets and violets grow along the ground and wood sorrel is growing between rocks. When you reach the Bald, head out and see the explosion of color from the azalea. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the sunshine before returning to your car.
Andrews Bald is approximately 3.5 miles round trip.
Perhaps the most famous azalea destination in the park. In fact, botanists from all over the world travel to the Smokies every year in June to see the display.
This hike is so incredible it’s said that it was a key in helping create the national park. Visiting committee members from Washington, DC were so taken by the beauty and variety of flame azalea on Gregory Bald they were convinced it was worthy to receive National Park status.
To reach the trail head, you get to drive through the famous Cades Cove.
Due to Parson’s Branch Road being closed indefinitely, you’ll park at the Gregory Ridge Trail up and back. The first two miles of this hike are relatively easy, crossing footbridges and keeping a gentle grade until you reach backcountry campsite #13. After the campsite, get ready to climb. Over the next 3 miles the trail gains a whopping 2,000 feet in elevation.
At approximately 5 miles, you’ll reach the junction with Gregory Bald Trail. Turn right and continue to climb for approximately another three-quarters of a mile before you reach the bald. Enjoy the sights and the views (and maybe even blueberries if you’re here later in the summer!) before returning to your car the way you came.
This strenuous trek is well worth the 11-mile round-trip hike.
Book Your Stay
Just because you’re done exploring for the day and you’re ready to head back to your luxury cabin doesn’t mean sacrificing seeing any more beauty. Be sure to book one of our secluded cabins to really stay in nature. Imagine being tucked away on a hillside surrounded by trees while you soak those tired hiking muscles in the hot tub. Enjoy the birdsong in the morning as you sip your coffee or tea from a deck with a mountain view.
Give our Reservations department a call at 800-204-5169 or check out all of our incredible cabins on our website. We look forward to hosting you soon!
Be sure to check out all of our vacation guides for planning your Smoky Mountain getaway. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram for the latest area information!