Hiking Hawksbill Mountain & Franklin Cliffs Loop Trail
On Saturday we went hiking a 8.7-mile loop starting from the Hawksbill Gap parking lot, wrapping around on the AT and the Big Meadows Horse Trail. Hawksbill Mountain is a great place to find all sorts of wildflowers.
We anticipated high foot traffic at the Hawksbill summit. Hawksbill is the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park at 4,050 feet. As a result, it has marvelous wide vistas of the park. For this reason, we looped around the opposite way that was recommended in order to visit Hawksbill first and get some lovely morning light for flower photos.
Wildflowers on Hawksbill Mountain
We visited Hawksbill last year during our honeymoon last July and the top meadow area and connecting Salamander Trail were full of all sorts of different wildflowers then. There were fewer flowers now in early July, but we still got to see some beauties.
Allegheny Stonecrop, or Hylotelephium telephioides, belongs to the Stonecrop Family (Crassulaceae) and blooms July to October.
It is found primarily found in the Central and Southern Appalachians.
These Allegheny Stonecrop plants were still buds, but I’d expect they’ll be blooming in the next week or two.
We found a bunch of these among the rocks at Hawksbill Mountain’s summit. Last July we saw them in other rocky areas on the AT going north of Hawksbill (this time we went south).
Wildflowers on the Appalachian Trail
Basil Bee Balm
Basil Bee Balm, also known as White Bergamot or Monarda clinopodia, belongs to the Mint family (Lamiaceae) and blooms June to September.
Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other nectar-seeking creatures love these flowers.
The leaves can be dried and brewed into a tea or crushed to extract bergamot essential oil. The lovely scent you smell in Earl Grey tea is bergamot oil.
We saw basil bee balm both at the Hawksbill Mountain summit and along the AT.
Purple-flowering Raspberry, or Rubus odoratus, belongs to the Rose family (Rosaceae) and blooms from June to September. Native to eastern North America, this plant produces tart red berries. Birds, butterflies, and bees all enjoy this plant.
We found purple-flowering raspberry bushes along the AT as well as on the Big Meadows Horse Trail.
The Canada Violet, or Viola canadensis, belongs to the Violet family (Violaceae) and blooms from April to June. This violet is mainly found in southern Canada and the northern U.S., but also in mountains elsewhere. It is endangered in some areas.
We found a few of these precious little flowers along the AT.
Big Meadows Horse Trail
After completing about two miles on the AT, we crossed the road to find a connecting path to the Big Meadows Horse Trail. At first glance, the name “horse trail” doesn’t sound glamorous or interesting for hiking. Both my husband and I were expecting a fire road – a wide flat road/path that can be used by park rangers for emergencies. We were pleasantly surprised that it was actually narrow and quite a challenging route winding uphill through a beautiful forest.
Wildflowers on Big Meadows Horse Trail
Nodding Wild Onion
Nodding Wild Onion, or Allium cernuum, belongs to the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) and blooms July to August. It favors open woods and rocky soil and can be found all around North America.
We found this pretty flower in a meadow close to Skyline Drive.
The Deptford Pink, or Dianthus ameria, originally came from Europe and is a member of the Carnation family (Caryophyllaceae). These demure deep pink wildflowers bloom in Shenandoah National Park from May to September and favor dry fields and roadsides.
We found this one in the same meadow as the nodding wild onion, as well as daisies, wild columbine, and clematis.
Recommended as a Wildflower Hike
Overall, the Hawksbill Mountain and Franklin Cliffs loop trail was an enjoyable hike with a variety of wildflowers.