Rewards Await Along the New River Trail State Park

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Rhododendrons on a hill Photo by – Gabriel.



Jewels! Jewels! Jewels! And they’re all free.

Blue ones, pink ones, yellow, red, purple—even gaudy white ones. The ephemeral wildflowers of early spring decorate the forest like a collection of the finest jewels, ranging from tiny gems barely an inch high to the blossoms of towering trees a hundred feet overhead.

Perhaps nowhere in the eastern United States offers such botanical riches as the dense woods of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. And among the finest places to enjoy spring wildflowers is the 57-mile-long New River Trail State Park, a well-maintained, linear park for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Such rails-to-trails conversions have grown in popularity as former railroad beds get turned into recreational routes.

Just a three-hour drive from Raleigh, the New River Trail in southwest Virginia makes an attractive destination in all four seasons. The spring wildflower season is special, though, stretching from late March to late May. 

While there’s no exact “peak” viewing time, the Town of Fries, Virginia holds its annual guided wildflower walk in late April, when the number and variety of wildflowers are thrilling. This year the rain-or-shine event is Saturday, April 20, beginning at 9:30 a.m. to take advantage of the morning sunlight filtering onto the trail.

Now in its third year, the naturalist-led spring wildflower walk is free, and no registration is required. Just show up! The walk begins where the New River Trail State Park crosses Fries Road at a low-water bridge about two miles from town (navigating to 5785 Fries Road in your GPS will work). 

Participants stroll the trail for a mile or so, stopping frequently to hear about the plants around them—how they fit together in a complex cycle of growth and rebirth and how they supplied early human inhabitants with food, medicines, dyes and more.

A similar wildflower walk is scheduled for Labor Day weekend, when participants may enjoy a very different floral landscape at the end of summer. This walk begins in downtown Fries (pronounced “freeze” and named after the man who founded a mill town there around 1900).

The delicate, pastel wildflowers of spring are called ephemerals because they are fleeting, coming into view only when sunlight, moisture, warmth and the lack of leaf cover act together just so. Many of these plants disappear back into the rich soil of the forest once spring is over. 

Their complexity mirrors the intricate dance of nature that lets individual pollinators do their work early in the growing season—sometimes while snow still glistens—before an immense tree canopy leafs out to obscure the ground, cutting off the wildflowers’ access to sunlight.

Daisies blooming
Daisies blooming on a trail near Fries, Virginia. Photo by Kevin Combs.

Along the New River Trail near Fries, farmland gives way to dramatic cliffs and steep hillsides blanketed by rhododendrons, which bloom in midsummer. The varied topography shows how distinct wildflowers take hold in tiny niche environments. An overhanging rock may support half a dozen different wildflowers, while a boggy spot a few feet away holds an entirely different selection.

Have you ever seen wild columbine and foamflower clinging to a small patch of earth high up on a cliff? Or swaths of maidenhair fern growing wild? Acres of trillium, punctuated by mayapple? Little brown jug flowers hugging the ground? Dutchman’s breeches or blue cohosh? Squaw-root or gaywings? They’re here, populating the woods with abandon.

The flowering shrubs and trees are special, too—gorgeous specimens like silverbell, dogwood, mountain magnolia, tulip poplar, redbud, pinxter flower and flame azalea. These require viewers to look up or out—not down—so that every few feet of the way presents a new and exciting vista.

Alongside the path, the New River flows boldly over shoals and around bends, and a spur of the trail takes visitors along 
cascading rapids.

New River Trail State Park links tiny Fries and its dramatic backdrop of forest with the old industrial town of Pulaski, Virginia, and, via the Chestnut Creek spur, to Galax, known for its annual fiddlers’ convention.

The pandemic of recent years actually helped these small towns and others that had fallen on hard times. Today, cozy Airbnbs are sprouting up everywhere—in the woods, in the towns, on scenic farms—and tourists from the closest big cities of the Carolinas have discovered the easy access and incomparable hospitality, along with the family-friendly recreational opportunities, of southwest Virginia. Anglers love the New River, as do birdwatchers.

One noteworthy, luxurious addition to the lodging scene is The Inn at Foster Falls, located on the site of an old orphanage. The Foster Falls recreation area is the anchor and headquarters of the New River Trail State Park. It offers historic buildings, picnicking sites, horseback riding and other amenities.

The wildflowers alone are well worth the visit, but you’ll also want to include some time to enjoy the atmosphere, fishing and hospitality of this beautiful area. For more information visit and

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