Wednesday, March 15, 2017

7 natural wonders to visit this spring in Upstate SC and vicinity!

Temperatures in the 20’s (and even teens!) with snow in portions of the Upstate this week definitely don’t encourage the feeling that spring is just around the corner. However as we approach April the chances of another frost in the region keep decreasing, and the spring equinox is next week on March 20th… Time to make spring plans!!!

There are dozens of spring happenings in the Upstate that could make for a spectacular spring bucket list, but here is the Femme au Foyer list of seven destinations that contains all of our favorite natural wonders in the Upstate and area. Best news? You can get started this weekend at Devils Fork State Park, because…

The Oconee Bells are blooming!

These tiny, bell-shaped wildflowers are only found in a few locations in the southern Appalachians, and 90% of them grow in the moist, wooded areas along the streams in the Jocassee Gorges. The delicate flowers are one of the first to bloom in the Upstate (from mid-March to early April), and this Saturday is the annual BellFest held in their honor at Devils Fork State Park where the one-mile Oconee Bells Nature Trail allows visitors to see the rare flower firsthand. For more on the Oconee Bell visit my post “The elusive Oconee Bell wildflower” and to view the event flyer for BellFest click here.

Baby goats?

You’ll want to make the trip to the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site soon, as the first baby goat expected this year is due today! Six goats are pregnant this year, with due dates ranging into mid-May.  While visiting the Sandburg Home, schedule some time to hike up Glassy Mountain; in late spring you’ll be surrounded by flowering rhododendron and treated to a stunning view of the mountains having just greened up. For directions and hike info, see the post "A hike up Glassy Mountain."

Nine Times Preserve and Trillium Trail!

Next up to bloom are the trilliums, and what better place to see them than Trillium Trail on Nine Times Preserve? The trail follows Little Eastatoe Creek and the northern boundary of the Preserve for  ¼ mile, with an assortment of spring flowers putting on a show starting with the trout lilies in February. I covered Trillium Trail and Cedar Rock Trail in my post "Spring Comes to Nine Times Preserve." 

A really big rock.

Spring marks the appearance of various uncommon plants in the vernal pools on Forty Acre Rock. In addition to the giant granitic flatrock, you’ll also find waterslides, waterfalls, a beaver pond, caves, hardwood and pine forests, and a variety of wildflowers and wildlife on this secluded, magical heritage refuge near Kershaw, SC. My article "Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve" has more on the trails and unique geological features of the area.

Another rare flower.

From mid-April on into July visitors to the Bunched Arrowhead Preserve might spot the federally endangered bunched arrowhead blooming! The seepage habitat in which the plant occurs is extremely threatened, and remaining bunched arrowhead populations are being lost to development and invasive exotic species. A spring visit to the Heritage Preserve will not be wasted even if you don’t spot the tiny white flower; the 180-acres contain a variety of other rare plants, and with its variety of forest and meadow habitats it is home to a wide assortment of butterflies, birds and other animals. For a look at a visit to Bunched Arrowhead Preserve, click here
Blue Ghost Fireflies, North Carolina - photo by Spencer Black

The legend of the blue ghost…

Then around the middle/end of May you’ll want to head up to DuPont State Recreational Forest around dusk to see the blue ghost fireflies. Tiny blueish lights hover above the floor of the forest, appearing by the thousands in undisturbed, high-moisture areas. The rare phenomenon appears only in small portions of the southern Appalachians, as they’ve lost a large portion of their original range due to loss of suitable habitat. For tips on where to go to see the rare firefly, read my post "On the hunt for the blue ghost."

Top photo source here, bottom here

Caught in the web of the spider lily!

Summer solstice is on June 21st, so you’ll want to make sure and head to one final destination this spring – Landsford Canal State Park near Rock Hill. In late May and June the largest known stand of the rocky shoals spider lily blooms on the shoals in the Catawba River, and the aquatic, perennial flowering plant has become so rare that it is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This year on Sunday, May 21st the Park hosts Lily Fest, in honor of the flowers that cover the river in a blanket of white each spring. A visit during this time also coincides with the resident bald eagles fledging their young... Check out my post on Landsford Canal State Park for more information on trails, history and the pair of nesting eagles at this fantastic park.

Spring usually sees increased precipitation, and you might want to take rainfall into consideration when visiting some of the Upstate waterfalls – viewing is enhanced with increased water flow. Wildcat Branch Falls at Wildcat Wayside, Rainbow Falls in Jones Gap State Park, Yellow Branch Falls on the Andrew Pickens district of Sumter National Forest, and the Narrows on Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve are all gorgeous destinations for spring hikes. Wherever you may go, remember to stay on trail, hike safely, and enjoy the beauty of spring in the Carolinas.

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