Posted by Leif Palmer in Events
Everyone has his or her favorite season of the year, and for many of us, it's spring. After a long winter full of ice and snow, freezing temperatures and gray, dreary days, springtime represents a much-needed renewal. Back again are warmer temps, blooming flowers and trees that are bursting forth in green foliage. As sunny days return, animals emerge from hibernation and introduce new offspring to the world. Likewise, it's a time for all of us to emerge from our winter dens and begin to enjoy the great outdoors once again.
With this in mind, we'd like to shine a spotlight on several of the most popular events in the Great Smoky Mountains for springtime visitors. Most of these have been around for years-some for decades-but one thing they all have in common is an appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us all and a celebration of the new life that accompanies every spring.
The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage is probably the granddaddy of all the springtime festivals and events in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dating back to 1951, the Pilgrimage features professionally guided walks, exhibits and other opportunities to explore the region's rich natural and cultural resources. In recent years, more than 900 “posy pilgrims” (as they've been dubbed at times) from more than 35 states and multiple countries have come to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park to learn about fungi, ferns, wildflowers, trees and shrubs, medicinal plants, insects, salamanders and snakes, birds and all sorts of mammals. The programs even include seminars on journaling, art and photography, and park history. The bottom-line goal has always been to bring people together to form bonds and friendships through a common interest in natural history, biology, ecology, conservation and land management.
The Pilgrimage usually takes place each year in late April, and those interested can register online at www.wildflowerpilgrimage.org. Discounted pricing is available for students and school groups. Most of the programs actually take place within the national park, and some even include transportation to the site. You should note that events are never canceled due to weather except in cases of extreme conditions; program leaders will always be at their respective events come rain or shine. About 45 percent of the event's attendees are repeat guests, and some have been attending for more than 20 years. Ages range from high school students to retirees.
Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge gets in on the springtime act every year with this annual festival devoted not only to beautiful flowers but also seasonal foods. Guests who visit the park will find themselves immersed in more than 500,000 vibrant and fragrant flowers placed through the park. Larger-than-life blooming sculptures stand as high as 15 feet as the entire landscape erupts in colorful splendor. The artists behind these natural works blend horticultural techniques with sculpture and painting to create breathtaking yet living art installations. Dollywood's Flower & Food Festival typically runs from the park's seasonal opening in March through early June.
But remember that food is a major component of this festival. Guests can still expect the standard Dollywood fare like funnel cakes, waffles and pizza, but in spring, there are usually unique menu offerings made with seasonal ingredients and sometimes even a floral twist. Treats might include liege waffles from Showstreet Ice Cream and caramel apples from Sweet Shoppe Candy Kitchen as well as BBQ brisket sliders, Cuban sandwiches and mountain paella. The best way to sample the fare is to purchase a dining pass that allows guests five food samples for $29.99.
If the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage sounded interesting to you, then you might also want to look into this Pigeon Forge-based event that celebrates all the natural features, creatures and cultures of the Great Smoky Mountains. Each year, some of the leading wildlife experts in the nation converge on the city to lead a series of walks, talks and workshops that focus on the abundance of wildlife, plants, trees, wildflowers and even the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the region as a whole. Traditionally, this event is held in May, although in 2022, it was moved up to January. For 2023 and beyond, we recommend contacting the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism or searching online to find out what specific dates are planned for that year.
One of the great things about WWW is that all the events are free and open to the general public. It offers a wide range of programs and activities that are geared toward both adults and kids, and guided hikes range in difficulty from easy to challenging. The wide array of classes offered is designed for both beginner and advanced students, so there's something for everyone. The event, which has been hosted at the Ramsey Hotel and Convention Center in recent years, also features vendor booths showcasing photography, local art, handcrafts and more.
When it comes to interacting with nature, it doesn't get more hands-on than fishing for trout in a mountain stream. That's what this bi-annual tournament-held each spring and fall-has in store for anglers of all ages. Prior to the spring edition of this two-day event, which is usually scheduled for early April, tournament organizers stock more than 20 miles of area streams with more than 10,000 trout. Waterways include the West Prong of Little Pigeon River, from the national park boundary in Gatlinburg downstream to the Sevierville City Park bridge and its tributaries.
Participants compete for cash and prizes, including $250 cash for the smallest and largest trout caught as well as gift certificates, trophies, fishing gear, amusement passes and more. But you can be assured that all participants also share a common love of fishing. Each day's action commences 30 minutes before sunrise and wraps up in the afternoon. A valid fishing license is required to participate.
(Note that the while the spring edition of the 2022 tournament had to be canceled this year, organizers are still planning on a fall tournament and expect to resume the spring competition next year.)
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.