Few plants signify “summer” in the mountains quite like the vivid pink Catawba rhododendron, and Grandfather Mountain is center stage for the spectacular annual show.
“Rhododendron are special because they are attention-grabbing,” said Amy Renfranz, director of education for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees and operates the Linville, N.C., nature park. “So many of us get lost in our smartphones, calendars and the rush of modern life. Brightly colored rhododendrons compete for our attention — and often win.”
To showcase the beauty and significance of this native plant, Grandfather Mountain naturalists will host the Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble from June 1-9.
This series of short, guided strolls, each held at 1 p.m. daily June 1-8, allows visitors to observe the blooms and learn from naturalists about their history, characteristics and roles they play in the mountain’s ecological communities. The programs are free with regular park admission.
The Rhododendron Ramble at Grandfather Mountain will begin June 1, with daily hikes leading to spectacular views. These hikes will begin at 1 p.m., and the location will depend on the blooms. Participants are encouraged to inquire at the Grandfather Mountain Entrance Gate for the start point of that day’s hikes.
The Rhododendron Ramble will culminate on Saturday, June 9, with a native plant festival and multiple hikes. From 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., local organizations, botanists and plant nurseries will be located at the Let-It-Rain Picnic Shelter with information about native plants and their extensive benefits.
From 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on June 9, there will be a special kids’ craft activity taking place at the picnic shelter. Kids will have the opportunity to make their own rhododendron blossoms to take home.
The naturalists will also host a series of short hikes that will highlight the magnificent beauty and natural history of rhododendron. The hikes will be on hourly rotations and will be divided into ability groups. Gusts should inquire at the Rhododendron Ramble Information Booth at the Let-It-Rain Picnic Shelter for the exact meeting location of each hike.
The beginner level hike will travel through Woods Walk from 11 a.m. to noon. Woods Walk is about a quarter-mile loop, with mild terrain and little elevation change.
The advanced level hike will take place at Black Rock (about 1.5 miles) from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and will highlight a higher elevation rhododendron and acid cove forests.
The intermediate level hike will run from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., taking participants through McRae Meadows to finish at Point Sublime (about a 1-mile loop).
Participants should select their hike based on their ability, but all programs are open to everyone. Each hike will be led by a member of Grandfather Mountain’s naturalist staff, who will be providing interpretive knowledge about the surrounding rhododendron ecology.
On the Rhodo
“Four species of rhododendron grow wild on Grandfather Mountain, and three of them could be in bloom for this year’s Rhododendron Ramble,” Renfranz said.
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 Rhododendron 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 starting Friday, May 25, Grandfather Mountain will be operating under its extended summer hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. (with ticket sales ending at 6 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.