Top Ten Parks for Spring

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Only-in-springtime view: Trilliums blooming on the forest floor
Activities: Hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding

As one of the most biodiverse regions in the country, this is a wildflower-lover's delight. Over 1,500 flowering plants grow in this national park, and in spring most of them are in full-fledged activity (if you can think of a plant as active—and I can).

Much of the drama happens on the forest floor. The strategy for many plants of the forest floor is to get in their growth blooming early in the season, before the canopy of trees overhead leaf out and blocks the sun. Springtime flowers include trilliums, phacelia, violets, lady's slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits, and showy orchids. Many of these plants have crossed the divide between wild and cultivated, and are grown in gardens. But there is something irreplaceable about seeing them in their natural condition.

Even though the Great Smoky Mountains may get some snow, it's never snowbound like some higher or more northern national parks. The mountains are crisscrossed by trails guaranteed to be open in spring. Popular hikes include excursions, waterfalls, old-growth forests, and trails with good views. The Rainbow Falls Trail is a 12-mile loop with spectacular views and a visit to a sheet falls. Andrews Bald Trail, a 3.6-mile round-trip, visits the rare environment of an Appalachian bald with good views and interesting plants along the way.

Auto road trips and bike tours through the area allow you to see a lot quickly, as well as give you a chance to get to know the people and towns of the region.

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