The 10 Best Places to Watch Spring Do Its Thing

David Landsel, March 09, 2016
Fares from Washington DC:

    From Maine's rocky coastline to California's high desert, spring is gearing up to bust out all over. If you're part of that group that's typically so over winter before the leaves even start falling, this is clearly something to celebrate. Not for you, admiring the odd clump of daffodils in the back garden – what's required here is something big. An adventure. Ready to live it up with one of the top seasons of all time, ever? Here are ten spring flings you won't soon forget.

    1. Go see wildflowers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Traversing a high mountain pass between Tennessee and North Carolina, the iconic Newfound Gap Road bisects the most-visited national park in the US and tends to get a lot of attention from travelers. Why shouldn’t it? This is, after all, one of the most scenic drives east of the Mississippi. But it’s in the secluded and quiet valleys – Cataloochee, for example – that the park's unique beauty really comes come alive. All the dramatic mountaintops can’t top a solitary stroll along a rushing creek on a warm spring morning.

    Don’t miss: The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage is one of the park’s talked-about annual events. Held April 19-23 this year, expect a busy schedule of hikes and drives all centered around wildflower viewing.

    Explore all the angles in New York State's most unique mountain range

    Rising up to 2,289 feet above sea level, the Shawangunk Mountains are one of the premier natural highlights of the Hudson Valley region north of New York City, attracting rock climbers to challenging cliffs and hikers to impressive ridge-top trails. They're surrounded by particularly pretty countryside – one of the best ways to appreciate the mountains is the 88-mile Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway, which runs a ring around the entire range.

    Don’t miss: Spend a night – or, if you're just day-tripping, book breakfast with a view at the historic Mohonk Mountain House, then hike the resort's private network of trails, stopping to admire the spring blooms in the hotel garden.

    3. Get a jump on the summer crowds in Door County, Wisconsin

    There’s no wrong time – or wrong way – to experience one of the Midwest’s most popular places, but there’s something special about a brisk, sunny spring afternoon and a spin up or down the peninsula during cherry blossom season, particularly along the more rugged eastern side, keeping as close to the Lake Michigan coastline as you can. A handful of scenic trails are well worth ditching the car, at least for a short while.

    Don’t miss: When the wildflowers spring into action, you’ll want to be strolling the carefully-kept pathways at the lake-adjacent Ridges Sanctuary, a 1,600-acre site dedicated to the preservation of ancient, delicate sand dunes and everything that thrives among them, including more than two dozen types of native orchid.  

    4. See Texas' Hill Country turn blue (or is it purple?)

    April in the Lone Star State’s stunning Hill Country means fields of bluebonnets. The  13-mile Willow City Loop road just outside the old German settlement of Fredericksburg is one of the more popular routes for those looking for a dose of color – here, creek banks and meadows each provide ample opportunity for flowers to grow. Go slow and enjoy the ride.

    Don’t miss: The nearby town of Burnet celebrates one of locals’ favorite times of year with the annual Bluebonnet Festival (April 8-10), celebrating its namesake with a host of unusual events, from wiener dog races to bicycle decorating contests.

    5. Watch the desert bloom in Arizona

    The Sonoran Desert is the wettest in the world, giving life to an astonishing array of flora, including the saguaro cactus. More than a million and a half of them can be found inside Saguaro National Park, near Tucson. During the month of May, look for the unique white blossoms that make the 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive (located in the park’s eastern section) even more impressive than usual.

    Don’t miss: Hop out of the car and experience the area on foot with a stroll on the easy Cactus Forest Trail; in spring, wildflowers are a staple along the 2.5-mile stretch bisecting the drive route.

    6. Enjoy the (relative) silence at Acadia National Park in Maine

    One of the East’s favorite summer places offers more than plenty of room to breathe free during the springtime; there are days in early May when it’ll feel like you have all 27 miles of the famed Park Loop Road all to yourself. Look for forsythia, apple blossoms, and purple rhodora among the park’s signature spruce trees.

    Don’t miss:
    The small but beautiful Wild Gardens of Acadia show off the native flora of Mount Desert Island and surrounds; go for a stroll and see what’s in bloom.

    7. Celebrate the start of cherry season on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula

    There are few places in the Great Lakes more perfect than the back roads of this iconic vacation spot near Traverse City when the region’s famed cherry trees hit full pink. Trouble is, the blossoms tend to keep their own schedule; interested viewers must keep their ear to the ground and stay flexible. It’s definitely worth the trouble.

    Don’t miss: A drive – or a brisk hike – through the woodlands of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for a look at the wildflowers. Here, springtime means lots of trailing arbutus, jack-in-the-pulpit, pink lady slipper and other splashes of color popping up from the sandy soil.

    8. Get lost in Ohio's beauty spot

    The gentle Hocking Hills southeast of Columbus offer a mix of natural beauty and history, dating back thousands of years to when the long-gone Adena people lived off the land. And what a land it is – forest and fields, caves, cliffs, quiet farm fields; as the region wakes up from winter, its beauty heightens considerably. The Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, following State Route 374, offers a 26-mile introduction.

    Don’t miss: The Waterfalls & Wildflower Driving Tour leads you down roads less traveled for a date with two of the very best things about a visit to the region during the spring months; ask for directions at the local tourism offices, located in Logan and Laurelville.

    9. Pay tribute to California's state flower

    Fields of poppies are one of the surest signs of spring in the high desert north of Los Angeles – the Antelope Valley's back roads, west of the city of Lancaster, are filled with the bright orange blooms when conditions are right, but the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is known as one of the best places to get an eyeful of California’s state flower, typically beginning in early March.

    Don’t miss: A hike along the reserve’s 2.5-mile Antelope Loop Trail for a good leg stretch and some impressive photo opportunities.

    10. Explore South Carolina's coastal wilds

    Mere minutes from the center of Charleston, the vast open space that is the Francis Marion National Forest is a prime spot for a spring drive that’s all about the wildflowers – think sundrops, sunbonnets, orchids and blue flag iris. The show unfolds underneath a canopy of classic Lowcountry pine and cypress; in season, a trip along the forest's Conifer Road Loop provides for some of the most spectacular sightings.

    Don’t miss: Stop in at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Sewee Visitor Center on Route 17 for a proper introduction to the forest, as well as directions to the best of the blooms at the time of your visit.