May 21, 2021—It’s the second half of May so the wild mountain laurels are in full bloom atop the mountains in northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia. The rhododendrons have also started to bloom and should be at their peak from late May to late June.
Shown above: Mountain laurel in bloom along the Aqua Trail at DeSoto State Park
Both types of tall shrubs thrive in the rocky Appalachian terrain, often transforming the edges of streams and creeks into dense jungle-like settings.
Luckily, there are many fantastic places where you can get a close up look at them in large numbers. Several parks in the region feature short hiking trails that lead to spots where you will find yourself completely surrounded by large clusters of mountain laurel or rhodendron blooms. Some of the best ones include:
- Cloudland Canyon State Park
- DeSoto State Park
- Little River Canyon
- Pisgah Gorge
The first three on the list are on Lookout Mountain while the other is on the rugged western edge of Sand Mountain.
Take a short but very steep hike on Cloudland Canyon State Park’s Waterfall Trail
Thanks to the incredible views at the bluff overlooks and the waterfalls, a trip to this Georgia state park is worth the drive any time of year. But, when you add flowering mountain laurel and rhododendron to the mix ... wow!
For some insight on getting to the Waterfall Trail at this park that’s found on the high western edge of Lookout Mountain, see my article: Soaring views and waterfalls set the stage at Cloudland Canyon State Park.
High concentration of blooms found near the river and two streams at DeSoto State Park
Lookout Mountain is home to the amazing Little River. The west fork of the river flows along the edge of Alabama’s DeSoto State Park. At the park, a great abundance of mountain laurel and rhododendron can be found at the rocky river, and along the cascading streams that feed into it.
Surrounding you with blooms, the plants seem to form “tunnels” in some easy to get to spots on the Yellow, Blue and Boardwalk trails, but especially on the Aqua Trail.
For help planning a short, colorful hike at that park, see: A hiker’s guide to DeSoto State Park’s best trails.
Where to spot them at Little River Canyon
Just a few miles south of DeSoto, the 12-mile long gorge portion of Little River Canyon National Preserve features some scenic places where you can get a close up look at blooming mountain laurel or rhododendron.
The Lower Two-Mile Trail is the best place for a short hike into an area filled with blooms. The trail leads from the canyon parkway to the edge of the river. A cascading stream runs parallel to the rocky trail (shown above). A hike to the river and back is less than a mile, but very steep.
CLICK HERE for a Google map to the Lower Two-Mile Trail parking area.
You‘ll also see mountain laurel blooming on the bluffs near some of the overlooks like the ones at Eberhart Point, as well as, other creeks and streams.
Walk the gauntlet at Pisgah Gorge
At the top of the slopes that lead down to the creek at this park found in Jackson County, Alabama, you‘ll find yourself in a portion of trail where the blooming bushes are so dense that you may feel like you are walking through a mountain laurel “gauntlet.“
It‘s a relatively small area found near the waterfall viewing deck. Only a couple of rhododendron plants are found in the park.
The mountain laurel plants are far less dense as you move away from the viewing deck, which is on the east end of the trail. There are only a few on the way to the west end of the trail, but a mixture of pink and white blooms can be found on the rocky edge of the gorge at the main scenic overlook.
Check out my article, Northeast Alabama’s Pisgah Gorge in pictures.