Photo by Skip Sickler

Few plants signify summer in the mountains quite like the vivid pink Catawba rhododendron.

When it comes to rhododendron, the Appalachian Mountains are in the spotlight because this particular bloom tends to flourish at higher elevations and cooler temperatures.

To showcase the beauty and significance of this native plant, Grandfather Mountain naturalists will host the Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble from June 1-7.

This series of 20-minute, guided nature strolls, will allow visitors to observe the blooms and learn from naturalists about their history, characteristics and roles they play in the mountain’s ecological communities. The tours will be held at 2 p.m. daily in areas of the mountain that best showcase the rhododendrons.

The program is free with regular park admission. To participate in the activities and access the nature park, guests must first purchase their tickets in advance at www.grandfather.com.

Photo by Skip Sickler

To ensure the guests’ safety, social distancing practices will be observed during this special event, and group sizes will be monitored. Although not required, face masks are still strongly encouraged.

During their visit, guests are also encouraged to practice the “Grandfather Two-Step,” meaning two steps of separation (6 feet) between each party traveling together in the park between other parties and staff. This encourages social distancing and is an easy to remember rule for staff and guests.

To learn more about Grandfather Mountain’s COVID-19 operating procedures, please visit www.grandfather.com/covid-19-update/.

“Rhododendron season is just starting, which means summer is almost here,” said Lauren Farrell, interpretation and education programs coordinator for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Linville, N.C., nature preserve. “The rhododendron’s colors are most extraordinary in the mountains, so the guests who visit during this time are sure in for a treat.”

On the Rhodo

Four species of rhododendron grow wild on Grandfather Mountain, including the flame azalea, catawba rhododendron, rosebay rhododendron, and more.  These three species are likely to be in bloom for this year’s Rhododendron Ramble.

Photo by Skip Sickler

Flame azaleas (R. calendulaceum) range from yellow to orange, peach or red in color and can be seen at the mountain’s main entrance gate and at Split Rock in late May through July.

Catawba rhododendron (R. catawbiense) is in bloom from early to mid-June, depending on elevation. Probably the most well-known of the rhododendron, their deep purple blooms will frame most of the trails in natural splendor.

Rosebay rhododendron (R. maximum), with its very light pink flowers, is the last to bloom in late June and may be in its early stages during the Rhodo Ramble.

Many rhododendrons are already blooming at lower elevations in the High Country, but the wide range of elevation available on Grandfather Mountain — a nearly 1,000-foot change from base to peak — provides viewers with a longer window of opportunity to see the rhododendron in bloom.

And now, Grandfather Mountain is operating under its extended summer hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. (with ticket sales ending online at 5 p.m.).

The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call 800-468-7325, or visit www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.