Schoolhouse Gap Trail: A Wildflower Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

So guess where we’ve been? Eastern Tennessee, that’s where, visiting friends. They picked us up at the Knoxville airport and whisked us off to the Great Smoky National Park, primarily so that we could enjoy the abundant wildflowers that bloom there at this time of year.


Our first day there we hiked the Schoolhouse Gap Trail. It’s a 4 mile wooded trail rated “easy”, but I will say that “easy” is in the eyes (or rather the knees) of the individual hiker.



Right away we started seeing flowers. Here are some Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus).


The fresh green of new leaves were lively contrast to the somber trunks of the tallest trees.


We found several patches of Crested Iris (Iris cristata). I’ve tried to grow this delicate flower in our own garden but without success. I think it needs quite specific woodland conditions and cannot tolerate much competition.


The Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) were past their peak, but here and there you could still find multitudes of white flowers in the understory.




Much of the trail followed a fast-flowing stream. On the streambank we saw our first Yellow Trillium (Trillium luteum).


Then we realized that this species of Trillium was quite abundant along the trail.


Another Trillium species new to me was Catesby’s Trillium (Trillium catesbaei). It has slightly nodding flowers in white or pink.



Here’s another one.


Another view of the woods. All the leaves seem to impart a greeenish tinge to the air itself.


This is another new one to me: Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera). What I thought at first were spots on the petals are actually round black anthers.


So I hope this picture doesn’t gross out anyone. People ride horses on this trail, which these Black Swallowtails think is a very good thing. Actually, we saw lots of butterflies on this trail and in the park generally – especially Swallowtails.

We saw lots of flowers that I’m not showing in this post, especially a variety of Violets, Wild Blue Phlox, (Phlox divaritica), etc. Just believe me when I say there were lots of wildflowers.

When we headed back I realized that the trail was a lot more steep than it initially seemed. My knees protested the way down a lot more than the way up.

There’s more to come from our trip to Tennessee. Have you gone on any good wildflower walks recently?

33 Comments on “Schoolhouse Gap Trail: A Wildflower Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

  1. Four miles is a long hike when you are going up and down. Seeing all of those wildflowers was worth it. A beautiful area. I just returned from a long weekend in Knoxville. It is a beautiful area.

  2. I thought butterflies would feast on nectar, but apparently they do not have discrimating taste!
    A lovely spring walk. I empathize with the toll on the knees.

  3. As someone who has creaky knees, I know all too well that down is much harder than up. Still, what a lovely walk. As for butterflies feasting on manure…what exactly do many of use in our gardens? šŸ˜‰

  4. Glad you saw a variety of wildflowers! We visited a wonderful local native plant garden this morning (Botanical Gardens at Asheville) ā€” it was at its peak. All the rain this last year really showed.

    • I’ve heard the area around Asheville has wonderful wildflowers – many of the same ones we found in the Smokies, I’m guessing.

  5. Oh, your poor knees! I always prefer going up though. That is indeed a glorious hike, just adored those black

  6. Jason … this post is GORGEOUS ! .. it is like breathing Spring air in as you see these wonderful pictures .. a sight for sore eyes here in our almost barren brown that is slowly changing over to green and perky dare I say ? LOL
    YES ! .. I am always grateful to be Canadian ( my dad’s family came from Scotland in the late 1700’s with their love of Nova Scotia) .. hey .. try not to be discouraged, there is light at the end of the tunnel .. this period in your country’s history will reflect the most important lesson ever learned .. how delicate and fragile democracy is will be a long time before anyone takes it for granted once this mess is over for you all .. take heart ! .. and sure ! .. claim being part Canadian, I’ll vouch for you all ? LOL

  7. P.S. I loved seeing the butterflies and no problem with what they like at all .. LOL !

  8. It’s nice to see so many natives flourishing as they always have. Here the deer do a number on them…
    I keep thinking I need to get out to a state park where summer visits have shown many promising leaves. Maybe this will be the post which inspires me to finally go!

    • Hmm. I wonder if they do anything to control the deer population. Could be there are enough predators to keep them from overpopulating.

  9. We see a lot of wild flowers around here, but it is lovely to see yours as there are so many differences in the vegetation. Hope your knees have recovered!

  10. What an amazing wood Jason. I should have been so excited to see these trilliums growing wild and the lovely iris. And what gorgeous butterflies. I am looking forward to seeing some more. Yes I have been on some wonderful wild flower walks in Italy last week. Post coming shortly.

  11. The flowers are wonderful, and all of those new leaves are wonderful. I was most interested in your comment about them making the very air seem green. I went on a little walk at our Sandylands sanctuary a couple of weeks ago. It’s mixed forest with a lot of pine, but I had the same impression. When I was in the depths of it all taking some photos, it really did seem as though the air had a green tinge to it. I suppose it’s a trick of the light, which I can’t explain. But I do appreciate it!

    • I don’t understand it either, but it’s almost like the green is floating off the new leaves into the atmosphere. I think part of it is the light green of the new leaves, perhaps it minimizes the contrast with the air. By the way, I think my comments in your Lagniappe blog may be going into the spam folder.

      • Sure enough, they were in spam. Thanks so much for mentioning it. I don’t know why that happens, but from time to time it does. Now I’ll go back and read them more closely.

      • Happens to me a lot. WordPress thinks I am a suspicious character. Wish I could convince them otherwise.

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