It has been quite a few years since I first set foot on the Appalachian Trail. As I stepped forth from Springer Mountain on that early spring day, I was ready to revel in the grand scenery of the mountains, the far-off vistas, the roaring waterfalls, the crimson-gold sunsets. Oh, I might occasionally stop to taste a wild strawberry or enjoy a particularly beautiful blossom, but I had little interest in the world at my feet and could have counted all the flowers I knew by name on my fingers.

One of the ways I became more proficient in identifying and appreciating the flora of the mountains was by attending wildflower pilgrimages. True to their name, these events can almost feel like religious gatherings with scores of like-minded people coming together on a subject about which they are passionate. Every attendee was a beginner at one time, so don’t feel intimidated if you barely know a sepal from a petal. Also, don’t worry about having to be in the best of shape; these are people who will spend many minutes oohing and ahhing over the minutest of flowers. Added pilgrimage bonuses are hikes for birders and butterfly watchers, and seminars concerning all manner of the environment and natural history.

If you want to ease into the world of wildflower pilgrimages, consider Chief Logan State Park’s Sue Browning Wildflower Walk in southern West Virginia.  For one day, volunteers and park personnel guide participants through a veritable garden of wildflowers including Dutchman’s breeches, bluebells, wild ginger, hepatica, blue-eyed Mary, mayapple, bloodroot, and wild geranium. Of particular interest is the Guyandotte beauty, whose one-inch flower has a yellowish white upper lip, while the lower lip, with three tiny lobes, has lavender lines along its length.

This year’s walk will take place on April 17. Find out more here.

YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED

…to know that I will be directing two Appalachian Trail Weekends at Mountain Lake in Virginia this year (June 18-20 & October 1-3). The program’s schedule includes two good day hikes and presentations about thru-hiking, lightening your pack, and wildflowers; participants get to stay at and enjoy meals served in the resort—where Dirty Dancing was filmed! More information here.