Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces Group Size Limits for 2022 Wildflower Season

by Jon D. B.

If you’re planning on visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park for wildflower season, be sure to read up on these crucial park changes first.

It’s almost time for spring wildflowers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM)! The blooming of GRSM’s spring ephemerals is one of the most remarkable sights of any national park. Gorgeous ephemeral flowers such as trillium (GRSM has 10 different species) begin to dominate the park. Lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, and columbine, too, come out. Bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, little brown jugs, and violets, to name a few more, also begin painting the landscape.

In fact, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to more wildflower species than any other national park. Which is exactly why GRSM staff is hoping to protect their flowers with new regulations for 2022 wildflower season. Specifically, the park is enacting group size limits that will affect wildflower hotspot Whiteoak Sink.

GRSM 2022 Wildflower Season Group Size Limits:

  • Where: 2022 group size limits apply to Whiteoak Sink area during 2022 wildflower season
  • When: As trial management begins Friday, April 1 through Sunday, May 8
  • What: Only groups of 8 or less people will be allowed in Whiteoak sink at any time
  • Why: “Limiting group sizes will allow managers to determine if a reduction in group size can reduce trampling and soil compaction around sensitive plant populations, as well as social trail creation,” cites GRSM

In short: If you’re planning to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Friday, April 1 through Sunday, May 8, be sure to check with the park for group size limitations for Whiteoak Sink and other wildflower areas.

Visitors view spring bluebells at Whiteoak Sink, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo courtesy of NPS, GRSM Press Release.)

“The intent is to better protect sensitive wildflower species that see damage,” the park cites. “[Damage occurs] when large groups crowd around plants off-trail to take photos or closely view blooms. Individuals and small groups, less than eight people, may access the Whiteoak Sink area throughout the wildflower season,” the park continues.

To help visitors through the changes, GRSM Volunteers will be available on-site to provide safe-viewing information while collecting monitoring data.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Wildflowers are Spectacular, But This Creates Challenges

“Since 2016, park managers have been monitoring sensitive wildflower species in the Whiteoak Sink area, an area that draws over 5,000 visitors during peak season,” adds GRSM Public Affairs’ Rhonda Wise via the park’s press release. “During the first year of monitoring, managers documented 62 plants that were damaged by trampling and the creation of 370 feet of new social trails by visitors trying to view or photograph individual plants.”

Based on this monitoring, Wise says, park managers would implement several strategies to protect this vulnerable ecosystem. This includes a trial group permit system in 2021 that was not effective. This led to a different strategy for 2022.

Some measures have proven helpful, however, and remain in place. These include signage and a volunteer cadre who provide on-site information to help visitors safely view wildflowers. In addition, these volunteers aid in isitor understanding the importance of remaining on trail to reduce soil compaction and trampling.

“With these efforts, plant trampling has been reduced by 80%,” Wise cites. “Social trail creation and soil compaction remain a concern that park management hope to further reduce through group size limitations.”

To learn more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park wildflower walks, visit GRSM’s breakdown here. For more information wildflowers in Smokies, visit the park website.

And be sure to brush up on how to ‘Recreate Responsibly’ in the Great Smoky Mountains with NPS’ Dana Soehn before your next visit.