4 Awesome Scenic Drives to Savor Late Summer Wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains! In brilliant shades of purple, yellow and white, the late summer and early fall wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains bring joy to all who wish to savor the glorious days of the changing seasons!
Did you know the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also known as the Wildflower National Park? There are as many as 19 different kinds of Goldenrod, over 20 species of Aster, and 6 different Rudbeckia that are native to the Smokies.
Check out these primo viewing locations we’ve scoped out for you to enjoy now on into the fall season!
Cades Cove is the #1 Scenic Drive for Late Summer Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains!
At five miles long and less than two miles wide, the scenic valley known as Cades Cove offers visitors an 11-mile loop road to drive, bike, and walk to explore this natural wonder’s flora and fauna. The paved road skirts the open valley’s 6,800 acres providing ample opportunities for wildflower and wildlife viewing.
Some of the beautiful flowers you’ll spot in Cades Cove are the tall Joe Pye Weed, Purple and Yellow Gerardia, Great Lobelia, and Ironweed. You’ll also see Downy Aster, Goldenrod, Virgin’s Bower, and Wild Golden-glow in the meadows of the cove.
Although the road is open daily from sunrise to sunset, it is closed to motor vehicles each Wednesday and Saturday morning until 10:00 a.m. for walkers, joggers and cyclists only until late September. This is a great time to enjoy Cades Cove and really be able to stop and smell the flowers! The Cades Cove Nature Trail, near the bike rental shop, offers a chance to see the unusual non-green, Pinesap, with drooping red and tan flowers that bloom through September.
For more info on Cades Cove, check out our HeySmokies blog about the Cades Cove Experience.
Rich Mountain Road is the #2 Scenic Drive for Late Summer Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains!
This less-traveled, country road begins just off the Cades Cove loop directly across from the Missionary Baptist Church at sign post #8 and heads north. Rich Mountain Road is a one-way, gravel road that climbs about eight miles up Rich Mountain and then descends into Tuckalechee Cove and travels for another five miles into Townsend.
In this oak-dominated forest, you’ll see the blue-striped Mountain Gentian and the delicate and rare Rose-Pink also known as Meadow Beauty. Rich Mountain Road also offers iconic views of Cades Cove that are certainly photo-worthy.
Please be aware that motor homes, buses, vans longer than 15 ft., and trailers are prohibited on Rich Mountain Road. The road is closed in winter.
Clingmans Dome Road is the #3 Scenic Drive for Late Summer Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains!
Take the high road into the National Park’s Canadian Zone and see plenty of the 3-5 ft. tall White Snakeroot (there are 13 different types of Snakeroot in the Park) as well as the large clusters of Filmy Angelica, a member of the parsley family. There’s the easy to recognize Pink Turtlehead, Monkshood, and the Rugel’s Indian Plantain, found only in the high country of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Although not a wildflower but a tree, we have to tell you about the Mountain Ash trees found along Clingmans Dome Road. This time of year this tree’s shiny red fruits burst forth in an explosion of color found only in the north woods and the Smokies.
Clingmans Dome Road (7 miles long) is closed in winter. For more information, check out our HeySmokies blog, the Clingmans Dome Experience.
Heintooga Ridge & Balsam Mountain Roads are the #4 Scenic Drive for Late Summer Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains!
To access this scenic drive, you’ll begin on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway that is located just a mile south of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee. You travel about 10 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Heintooga Ridge Road (milepost 458) for another 9 miles to the Heintooga Overlook and Picnic Area. The exciting thing about this wildflower drive is that you are constantly changing elevation so you optimize your chances of seeing many varieties like Curtis’ Aster, Stiff Gentian, Closed Gentian, Southern Harebell, and Tall Bellflower.
The Heintooga Picnic Area offers 41 tables in the mile-high forest of spruce and fir trees. The nearby Heintooga Overlook is a great place to watch the sunset.
If you have the time, like an extra couple of hours, you’ll want to continue your drive on the one-way, unpaved Balsam Mountain-Heintooga Round Bottom Road for 28 miles back to Cherokee via Big Cove Road. Please note, that motor homes, buses, vans longer than 15 ft., and trailer are prohibited and the road closes in mid-October for the winter.