Hardwood Cove: Another Wildflower Walk in the Smokies

Multiple sources indicated that Hardwood Cove was one of the best short wildflower walks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s just under a mile, and yet it took us over THREE HOURS to complete the hike.


Partly it was because there were just so many different kinds of wildflowers, and we were constantly stopping to take photos and check identifications. This park has over 1,500 kinds of flowering plants, one of the most diverse spots in North America.

The other thing is that this was not an easy trail. It was pretty steep, full of roots, rocks, and stream crossings that required us to step carefully in order to avoid getting a shoe full of water.


Several species of Trilliums are abundant. Here are some Yellow Trilliums (Trillium luteum), along with a single Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia).


Above are some Erect White Trilliums (T. erectum forma albiflorum), a species I had never seen before. It’s notable for the black anthers at the center of the flower.


Great White Trillium (T. grandiflorum).


It’s a special treat to see Trilliums in the region where I live, so it took my breath away to find hillsides just covered with them.


Hardwood Cove Trail traverses both old growth and second growth forest. The higher elevations have some enormous trees spaced widely apart. The lower elevations were logged 100 to 150 years ago. Some of the land was used to grow corn and potatoes for a few decades before reverting to forest.


Here’s some Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) mixed with Foamflower.


There must have been masses of Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) blooming a couple of weeks before our visit, based on the amount of foliage we saw.


There are 3 kinds of white violets in the Smokies (along with yellow and blue). As best I can tell these are Sweet White Violets (Viola blanda).


We were too early for Yellow Ladyslippers but we did find another kind of native orchid known as Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis).


Did I mention there were a lot of streams? These woods have plenty of moisture. In the Smokies rain averages 55-85 inches annually, depending on elevation.


Looking up we could see plenty of the white bell-like flowers of Mountain Silverbell (Halesia carolina var. monticola).


White Fringed Phacelia (Phacelia fimbriata) has tiny, delicate flowers that are rather difficult to photograph. It was not hard to find, though, on the woodland floor.


You wouldn’t expect to find succulents growing in such moist woodlands. However, Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) is native to this region.


It’s possible that in this picture Judy makes Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla) look more exciting than it deserves to be.


Another stream rushing down over a stony bed.


Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) looks just like a white-flowered version of Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia).


Here and there we saw some Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) in flower.


This is Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides).


Another new one for me: Yellow Mandarin (Disporum lanuginosum).

So the other reason why this trail took so long was that my knees were still sore from walking the Schoolhouse Gap Trail. Toward the end of Hardwood Cove, I was hobbling like Mel Brooks’ 2,000 year old man.

Even with creeking knees, this was a magical wildflower walk. The richness of plant life is just incredible. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

35 Comments on “Hardwood Cove: Another Wildflower Walk in the Smokies”

  1. What a great hike. I wouldn’t want to miss it either. I bought a small pot of rescued wildflowers when I was in Knoxville. There was a yellow trillium in it. I hope it lives and thrives. I have bad knees too. I have found that walking sticks help tremendously especially when on uneven ground.

  2. I’ve never been to this area of the country, but if I get a chance, this is the spot I’d head to. It’s glorious. I’ve never in my life seen a trilliium, and can imagine how exciting it was to see such masses of them. I do think you’ve identified a plant for me. When I was at the Sandylands sanctuary, there was a pretty plant I couldn’t compare to anything but lily of the valley, even though I knew that wasn’t much of a comparison. Now, I think it was Solomon’s seal, which happens to be shown on the BONAP and USDA maps for the precise area where I was.

    I laughed at your three-hour mile. How well I know that little phenomenon. At Sandylands, I had taken off without a map, and there was no one around at all. I ended up getting a little turned around, so I decided to backtrack. What had taken me three hours on the outbound trek took fifteen minutes heading back to the car. I laughed all the way home.

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