Must-Do: Attend the Smoky Mountain Wildflower Pilgrimage on April 19 – 23
We recently wrote about the best places to spot wildflowers in the Smokies. The Smoky Mountains offer much more than beautiful leaves in the fall; they’re also home to hundreds of breathtaking wildflowers in the spring! Intrigued? The Smoky Mountain Wildflower Pilgrimage offers the park’s very best guided tours for flora enthusiasts. Don’t miss it!
Sixty-five springs ago, 9 pilgrimage leaders guided 90 nature enthusiasts on an exploration of the beautiful and diverse wildflowers of the Smoky Mountains. This April, more than 700 naturalists, birders, and beauty-seekers will gather again – with 147 different events offered that now include sessions on birding, ecology, and the park’s natural history, in addition to the event’s namesake wildflower walks.
Attendees (known affectionately as “Pilgrims”) will attend rain-or-shine events both indoors and out: You can learn about edible and medicinal uses for Smoky Mountain flora on a 3-mile Forest, Foods, and Pharmacy walk, or go birding along Cades Cove Loop Road. On Wednesday evening, Emmy-winner Bill Landry of The Heartland Series hosts A Celebration of People and Their Land.
And don’t miss out on having an (educational) good time at Thursday night’s trivia night, hosted by the dynamic Andy Key, where you’ll show your Smoky Mountain trivia chops as you battle other teams for the championship.
Other highlights? You’ll definitely want to attend one or more Smoky Mountain wildflower walks where you’ll hear your guide pontificate on everything from the storied history of the park to the role of organisms called lichens in the ecosystem (fun fact: lichens are part-algae, part-fungi, and live together symbiotically). Listen to them explain how Quaker Ladies got their name, or gaze at fields of Showy Orchis as you wait to spy a salamander or a swallowtail butterfly. Nature newbies will enjoy Wildflower Identification for Beginners; pros will like sessions such as Advanced Flower Photography for SLR Cameras.
Tip: Sessions fill up fast, but popular programs are repeated throughout the week. Refer to the “Similar programs” notations in the Pilgrimage’s incredibly comprehensive brochure if your preferred session is already booked.
We highly recommend registering online – you’ll save a spot for the program you want to attend, and you and the rest of your party won’t have to worry about whether there will be enough slots for you. There’s still time to pre-register for the 2016 event at the Smoky Mountain Wildflower Pilgrimage here. Registration closes at 5 p.m. on April 15. After that, onsite registration begins at the Mills Conference Center in Gatlinburg on April 19 at 5 p.m.
Tips: Didn’t find space in the event you were hoping for? Check to see if the program’s still full when you check in at the Mills Auditorium; sometimes no-shows mean that slots open up. Hoping to spot a black bear or a rafter of turkeys? Consider scheduling one or two solo hikes during your time in the Smoky Mountains; sometimes large groups of people traveling together can make wildlife shy. (Try Porters Creek Trail for an uncrowded hike with stunning wildflowers).
Need a place to call home during your epic wildflower adventure? Check out our list of cabins and mountain condos here!