Devoted to exploring off the beaten path for beautiful waterfalls, wildflowers, and landscapes in West Virginia.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Wildflowers on the Greenbrier River Trail: Part Two

The Greenbrier River Trail (GRT) is undoubtedly one of the best hiking and biking venues in West Virginia. But a closer look at the GRT reveals that there’s much more to being a traveler along this long and winding road through our State. For my wife, Phyllis, and me the main attraction is wildflowers. From the first bloodroot of spring to that last blossom of fall, we search the state for wildflowers and their hang-outs. The New River Gorge is a haven for spring wildflowers, but by summer we turn our attention elsewhere to maintain the hunt. Last July, on a tip by our friend Drema Morgan, a WV South writer and photographer, we headed out to the GRT. She reported seeing a Turk’s cap lily on the southern end of the trail. That was enough to send Phyllis and me out the door and down the road. After downloading a trail map, we decided to start at the North Caldwell trailhead at milepost 3. From Beckley it was an easy drive on I-64 East to Exit 169 at Lewisburg. From there we drove north on US 219 for ½ mile, turned east (right) onto Brush Road (Rt. 30), then, after ½ mile, continued onto Stone House Road (Rt. 38) for another three miles to the trailhead.
Deptford Pink

Wildflowers Aplenty

We had barely filled our backpacks with lunch, wildflower identification books, and photographic gear and taken a few steps out of the parking lot before some interesting flowers stopped us. The wildflowers, new to us, were everlasting peas of pink, white, and purple hues. The group of shocking pink blossoms stood out like stop signs inviting a look-see. Off to a promising start, we already felt good about summer wildflower hunting on the GRT. We weren’t disappointed. The wildflowers along the GRT were many and varied. Deptford pinks, delicate flower blossoms no bigger than the tip of your little finger, were sprinkled here and there along the trail. We also found other tiny beauties such as thimbleweed and a patch of wild lettuce. Continuing on our trek, early goldenrod caught our eyes as did some fresh joe-pye weed. A couple of my favorites, tall coreopsis and early goldenrod, glowed brightly in the sun, showing off their rich golden hues. Bouncing bet, St. Johnswort, and garden phlox lined the trail, too. 
Basil Balm

One and a Half Miles and 21 Wildflowers 

Besides enjoying some of our favorite wildflowers, blooms we had not identified before popped up to challenge us. We spent a good bit of time with wildflower identification books in hand hunched over a flamboyant dark purple and white flower. While Phyllis thumbed through the pages, I rolled on the ground trying to photograph this mystery plant. After mulling it over, we thought it fit the description of showy skullcap. Heads bobbing side-to-side scanning for more flowers, we continued walking slowly upriver. Being a rail trail the grade was slight—barely noticeable. The fine limestone gravel surface made the hiking easy, too. The only holdup to hiking were the wildflowers, many new to us, which we stopped to identify. After hiking only 1 ½ miles on the GRT, we had already listed 21 wildflowers. Our hike on the GRT was fast becoming a stroll through a long and narrow wildflower garden. But we were still looking for the prize, wildflower number 22, the Turk’s cap lily that Drema said she had spotted on the trail. 
Showy Skullcap

The Prize Arrives

We found the prize right where Drema said it would be—at the tent campsite at mile marker 4.7. The promised Turk’s cap lilies glowed in the sun like orange-gold light bulbs. Even if wildflowers don’t interest you much, the shear brilliance of Turk’s cap lilies is bound to delight. The lilies capped off a pleasant wildflower jaunt on the GRT. We doubled back at this point and enjoyed a second look at the wildflower display along the trail. As just amateur wildflower enthusiasts, we counted 22 wildflowers along the 1.7 miles of the trail that we traversed. It was easy hiking and pleasant hunting. I can only imagine what the remainder of the 80 trail miles holds in the way of wildflower wonders.
Turk's Cap Lily

References, Resources, Activities & Suggestions

Researching an 80 mile long State Park might seem a bit daunting. But there are a host of references and resources to guide you. The single best source to plan a venture on the GRT is the “Greenbrier River Trail” brochure published by the West Virginia State Parks system. In addition, here’s a listing of some informative GRT websites: The West Virginia State Park system Website. The Pocahontas County Convention and Visitor Bureau maintains a very useful site at Website; and a new website, maintained by the Greenbrier River Trail Association, is online at Website. These websites post maps, and contain listings of trail resources such as nearby grocery stores, lodging, outfitters for bike and canoe rentals, shuttles, and guided fishing trips. Also check the “Pocahontas Nature Club” Facebook Page for activities such as their annual Wild Edibles Festival. While on Facebook, check out “The Friends of the Greenbrier River Trail,” too, and learn more about the annual Great Greenbrier River Race, which includes a 3-mile Run,  a 4-mile Paddle, and a 10-mile Pedal. (Facebook Page). 
Tall Coreopsis
Last, but not least here are two things to bear in mind: 1) Poison Ivy grows along the trail, too, so keep a close eye out for it, and 2) Please don’t pick the flowers. Well that’s the long and the skinny of the Greenbrier River Trail. There’s plenty of fine outdoor fun for everyone. So enjoy! 

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