Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

With Shenandoah National Park  beginning their re-opening phases, opportunities to see blossoming wildflowers and trees are now available. And with a documented 862 species of wildflowers, there is no denying the extraordinary beauty of spring in the park—mountain laurel, pink azalea, trillium (left) and wild geraniums are just a tiny portion of the lush colors the Park displays in spring.

And the Shenandoah Valley is also resplendent with color almost everywhere this time of year. Back roads, farmland, state parks, scenic greenways, museum gardens and other sites provide abundant opportunities to witness spring’s bursting blossoms.

For example, did you know the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester includes seven acres of gardens? While the Glen Burnie Gardens (right) are temporarily closed, you can visit virtually here with a video just shot last month. When the gardens do reopen, walk a new trail through a grove of bamboo with various stopping points, some of which offer a view of nearby wetlands. When The Trails at the MSV open in the fall, the wetlands will feature a floating boardwalk!

South of Winchester, the town of Front Royal is the northern entrance to Skyline Drive.  You can take Route 340 (which roughly parallels the Drive) toward Luray and see eye-popping bursts of redbuds and dogwoods along the road. Before you get to Luray, you pass the Shenandoah River State Park, where, on the aptly named Bluebell Trail, you may still see some bluebells (left) that started blooming in April. The 1.4 – mile Cottonwood Trail is another good bet to see wildflowers such as Dutchman’s breeches, toothwort, bloodroot, sweet Betsy, Mayapple, Virginia bluebells, and Birds-Foot Violet. In all, the park has 24 miles of hiking trails, many of which can be biked, horsebacked, on 1,600 classic Blue Ridge acres. Oh, yes, there are about five miles of Shenandoah River shoreline as well.

Virginia State Parks are open for day-use activities. Read the rules here

Another good day-use spot is the Hawksbill Greenway in Luray. (Watch for rows of Bradford Pears in bloom as you enter Luray on Route 340.) Following the course of Hawksbill Creek through Luray’s downtown, this two-mile path is an easy, serene and scenic walk past the town’s colorful murals. Maintained flower beds complement the redbud, dogwood, magnolia and crabapple trees you may see.

Hawksbill Greenway

The South River Greenway (below) in Waynesboro is another great example of planned, scenic walks. It’s 1.2 miles and includes an arboretum.

Moving farther south, one can still gain access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, although facilities are closed, as is the parkway itself from MP 0- 13 in Virginia. But most of the road and trails remain open for day usage. As for what’s in bloom, May and June are pinnacle times. While elevation can make a difference, in May you can usually count on seeing May apple, trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, lady slippers, bleeding heart, and firepink. Starting in early June around Peaks of Otter, the Parkway’s famous rhododendron will make it hard for you to keep your eyes on the road.

One good way to keep up with what’s blooming is to visit the Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce.  Although closed for the moment due to COVID 19, its website is a wealth of information. The State Arboretum of Virginia (also known as the Orland E. White Arboretum) occupies the central 172 acres of the Farm.

Another great source is the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum in Harrisonburg. Part of James Madison University, its grounds are open to the public from dawn to dusk.

One final word of caution about picking wildflowers—don’t. Tempting as it is, if everyone followed the normal human impulse to pluck flowers their beauty would disappear quickly. Moreover, removing them can negatively affect pollinators and other animals that depend on that species for food and cover. Wildflowers are delicate and don’t survive long once picked, anyway. See them, smell them, photograph them—and leave them where they are.

Banner photo of Hawksbill Greenway courtesy Richard Sitorius, Luray, VA