Big Laurel, Alarka Creek Headwaters

Posted By on May 1, 2022

Big Laurel, Alarka Creek Headwaters

2.51 miles; 183 ft. total elevation gain; Bryson City, NC

This was the second guided hike I signed up for as part of the NC Wild Plant Society’s Spring Hiking Weekend (see my earlier post about this event in case you missed it). It was considerably less arduous than yesterday’s hike, but simply fascinating, botanically. Our guide, who wore his love for this part of the world on his sleeve, was Owen Carson, an environmental consultant and past president of the NC Invasive Plant Council.

The Alarka Creek Headwaters are in what’s known as a “hanging valley” that contains a rare high-altitude bog that hosts species of plants not seen at lower altitudes, as well as conifers like Frasier Fir and Red Spruce. The hemlocks are alas succumbing to the adelgid which is the bane of hemlocks everywhere, but you can still find a few here and there.

Bird’s Foot Violet (Viola pedata)

Rattlesnake Weed (Hieracium venosum)

Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Smooth Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis)

Thought I’d just let the wildflowers speak for themselves. I’d love to have some of these in my future garden, but I’m going to be nowhere near the elevation of this area, so I may not be able to. Still, I can dream…

You can find out more about, well, to be honest, I didn’t find much info online about this particular area, but there’s a nice pdf map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at this link. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.


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