The Great Rhododendron blooms across the Mountain State

By Vanta Coda III and Jonathan Eggleston, RealWV

As the Great Rhododendrons bloom all across the Mountain State, they highlight the shaded areas where most thickets grow. This particular species is West Virginia’s designated state flower, and features stunning white petals which shine like a beacon through pockets of light in the under-canopy.

While it may be late in the season to see the blooms – which are typically from June 14th to July 10th -The RealWV has put together a list of the best places to see the state flower bloom for next year. This story is a collaboration of RealWV’s photojournalists Vanta Coda and Johnathan Eggleston), and features a special highlight of photographer David S. Johnston’s work.

Northern West Virginia

Photography by Vanta Coda, III

Audra State Park

Although relatively small in size, Audra State Park is a hub for enjoying natural beauty. This is especially so within the Rhododendron bloom between mid-June and early July. 

This state park’s campgrounds and trails are encircled by rhododendron groves, with a notable presence of these flowers along the Alum Creek/Alum Cave Trail. Along the trail, many of the plants drape over the caves edges and line the pathways. 

A late blooming pink rhododendron flower sits perched atop a cliff overlooking the Middle Fork River in Audra State Park. Peak bloom at Audra State Park occurs between June 14 and 22. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
A hoverfly inspects a rhododendron flower just before dark at Audra State Park. This flower is one of the last of the season, as the once colorful groves go back to green. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Dolly Sods

Even as many of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area’s backcountry trails are lined with rhododendrons, Fisher Spring Run Trail stands out, as it makes for proper rhododendron habitat with its impressive thickets under a shaded canopy. 

Peak Bloom at Dolly Sods is from June 29 – July 10, as the altitude pushes back the bloom time. 

White petals of the rhododendron dot the under-canopy along the Fisher Spring Run Trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. This picturesque trail also features clearings of ferns and mushrooms. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
A pocket of light shines on a rhododendron along Fisher Spring Run Trail. This shaded, lush trail is less frequented than the likes of the popular Bear Rocks trail, making for a quiet hike. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
A pair of grammoptera crawl along the petals of a rhododendron in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

The rhododendron maximum as seen from Pendleton Falls in Blackwater Falls State Park. Image captured by WV Landscape Photographer David S. Johnston.

Southern West Virginia

Photography by Jonathan Eggleston, RealWV

The Blooming of the White Rhododendron in Southern West Virginia: A Timeless Symbol of Beauty

In the rolling hills and dense forests of West Virginia, a captivating phenomenon unfolds each summer.

The blooming of the white Rhododendron, (also known as Rhododendron Maximum) is a botanical marvel. Highlighted by its large, showy blossoms, this flower graces the landscape from late June to early July, offering a stunning spectacle for tourists,  nature enthusiasts and residents.

The journey to discover the White Rhododendron

The Rhododendron holds a special place in the heart of West Virginia, having been designated as the state flower since 1903. The choice of this flower reflects its widespread presence across the state and its representation of West Virginia’s natural beauty and resilience. The rhododendron’s ability to thrive in the rugged Appalachian terrain symbolizes the spirit of the state’s inhabitants.

A photograph taken of the earlier Rhododendron Catawbiense captured by myself during May of this year. Photo by Jonathan Eggleston, RealWV.

Fayette and Pocahontas Counties

Knowing that the New River Gorge is a prime location for spotting Rhododendron maximum, I ventured into Fayette County. This breathtaking area, known for its deep canyons and scenic views, was a great place to start searching. Driving along the winding roads, I was delighted to see clusters of white rhododendrons, their blossoms creating a nice contrast against the lush greenery. Photo by Jonathan Eggleston, RealWV.

Continuing my search, I traveled to Pocahontas County and ventured into the Cranberry Glades Wilderness. Here, the white rhododendrons were literally all over the place, their blooms adding a touch of elegance to the unique wetland environment.

The sight of these flowers in their natural habitat was truly awe-inspiring, and I was able to capture some incredible photographs that showcase their beauty. Photo by Jonathan Eggleston, RealWV.

A Celebration of Nature’s Resilience

The white rhododendron’s annual bloom is more than just a visual delight; it is a celebration of the region’s rich heritage and the rugged beauty of West Virginia’s wild landscapes. Each blossom stands as a testament to the state’s commitment to preserving its natural habitats, offering a moment of reflection on the importance of conservation.

Tips for Finding the Great Rhododendron:

  • Timing is Key: Plan your visit from late June to early July, when the white rhododendrons are in full bloom.
  • Location, Location, Location:  Some of the best places to see these flowers in southern WV include the New River Gorge and Grandview state park in Fayette County, Anthony Creek/Blue Bend in Greenbrier County and the Cranberry Glades Wilderness in Pocahontas County.
  • Explore Scenic Roads: Drive along less-traveled roads in these areas to increase your chances of spotting the rhododendrons growing naturally along the roadside.

Hiking Trails: Consider hiking in these regions, as the rhododendrons often flourish in the underbrush of forested areas.

It is clear that the white rhododendron is not just a state symbol – it is a cherished part of West Virginia’s natural identity! Its bloom each year serves as a reminder of the timeless charm of the Appalachian Mountains and the delicate beauty that lies within them.

(Big shoutout to Photographer David S. Johnston for allowing me to showcase some of his work in this story.  You can check out his photography by clicking this link.)

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