(Above photo, credit: Gloria Benfer taken at Lyman Run State Park)
Few things are as beautiful as seeing spring wildflowers bloom in Pennsylvania. The brightly colored flowers signal the end of winter and the beginning of the outdoor season for many.
While these gorgeous flowers can be found throughout the commonwealth, some state parks are fortunate to have a concentration of them.
The bright yellows, reds, whites, pinks and purples line hiking trails, meadows, and streamsides. Luckily, there are a number of parks around the commonwealth that you can visit to take in this seasonal splendor.
Jennings Environmental Education Center
The mack daddy of all Pennsylvania wildflower blooms is at the Jennings Environmental Education Center in Butler County. Jennings, which is part of the state park system, is home to the only publicly protected relict prairie in the state.
The 20-acre prairie ecosystem at Jennings contains countless distinctive prairie plants. The most noteworthy and spectacular prairie flower that can be found is the blazing star. These bright purple flowers cluster on 4 to 6-foot stalks and create a spectacular show during peak bloom time in late July and early August. According to DCNR, the late bloom time is common for prairie plants, which prefer hot, dry weather.
Jennings has 5 miles of hiking trails, including two short loops in the prairie section. The 0.22 mile Blazing Star Trail is a self-guided interpretive trail that travels through the middle of the prairie. The 0.28-mile Prairie Loop Trail includes interpretive signs. DCNR recommends this trail for viewing wildflowers in the summer and fall.
Be sure to be alert at Jennings as it is home to the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. While this small and reclusive snake is timid, it is venomous and visitors should be careful when walking through its home. DCNR recommends that visitors stay on the mowed paths and keep alert to reduce the chances of an unexpected encounter.
Racoon Creek State Park
Located in Beaver County, Racoon Creek State Park is a great place to find a diverse stand of wildflowers in Pennsylvania.
The Wildflower Reserve at the park’s eastern boundary contains more than 700 species of plants. The 314-acre tract has one of the most biodiverse and unique stands of wildflowers in the keystone state.
There are 4.5 miles of trails that take visitors through a variety of habitats including oak-hickory forest, pine plantations, meadows, and riparian forest. There are 10 trails in the Wildflower Reserve, anywhere from 0.12 miles to 1.54 miles long.
According to DCNR, wildflowers can be found throughout the growing season with peak blooms in late April through early May and again in August through early September. A record of the species documented in the reserve can be found at the Wildflower Reserve Interpretive Center.
Warriors Path State Park
Bedford County’s Warriors Path State Park is one of the most unique on the list, as it is bounded on three sides by the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.
The 349-acre season park is open from mid-April through the end of October. The park lies near the famous path used by the Iroquois in raids and wars with the Cherokees and other Native Americans in southern Pennsylvania.
During a 2021 visit, I was fortunate to find lots of blooming flowers while running the River Loop Trail. The trail can be accessed near Pavilion #2 off of Launch Road. The state park has 3 miles of trails, so be sure to spend some time exploring this beautiful habitat.
Ohiopyle State Park
Aside from stunning waterfalls and more than 79 miles of hiking trails, Ohiopyle State Park is also home to incredible biodiversity and spring wildflowers.
While the park encompasses approximately 20,500 acres, we’re focusing on a couple of specific areas and trail sections. Both the Great Gorge Trail and Hyatt Connector and Loop are heralded for their wildflower blooms.
According to DCNR, the 1.3-mile, easy Great Gorge Trail passes through the best spring wildflower area in the park. It is the easiest hiking trail in the park. The Hyatt Connector and Loop trail traverse the Sugarloaf wildlife food plot areas and pass through varied habitats including an open meadow. The 2-mile trail is listed as more difficult.
Another amazing area is the Ferncliff Peninsula National Natural Landmark. This 100-acre peninsula is home to rare and interesting plants.
That’s because the Youghiogheny River – which creates the peninsula — flows north, picking up seeds in Maryland and West Virginia and depositing them at Ferncliff, north of their usual growing range. According to DCNR, the deep gorge is slightly warmer than the surrounding area, which allows these southern species to survive.
Trough Creek State Park
In my opinion, Trough Creek State Park may be one of the most underrated parks in Pennsylvania. The park’s incredible beauty was a revelation to me when I visited it in the spring of 2021.
I was totally enamored with its stunning natural features. So much so that I sprained my ankle because I was too focused on the view. The park’s features are many: The Ice Mine, Balanced Rock, Copperas Rocks, and Rainbow Falls.
Trough Creek is also a hotbed for wildflower blooms. Take any of the 12 miles of trails and you’re bound to stumble upon spring wildflowers. Pay attention and you may hear or see migrating warblers.
After the spring wildflower season, you can take in the mountain laurel, which blooms during mid-June, and rhododendron, which blooms during early July. They can be found along most trails.
Ricketts Glen State Park
Known for its 22 named waterfalls, Ricketts Glen State Park has an exceptional spring growing season for dozens of wildflowers.
The 13,000-plus-acre park is spread over Luzerne, Sullivan, and Columbia counties. While it is a difficult 7.2-mile hike, you won’t be disappointed with the sights, sounds, and smells you’ll encounter on the Falls Trail. In addition to seeing 21 of the 22 waterfalls, you’ll also see spectacular wildflowers. From Marsh Marigolds to Wood Sorrels, the bright colors of Pennsylvania’s biodiversity will surround you.
Be sure to be cautious when hiking this trail as it contains rocky, steep terrain that can be slippery at times.
Did I miss any? I’m sure I did. Be sure to let me know your favorite state park or forest to find blooming spring wildflowers.
Christian Alexandersen ran one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks in 2021 and has been sharing with us stories and tips from his journey! To read more blog posts from Christian and other PPFF guest bloggers, visit our News page.
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