Featured Hike: Bakers Mountain Spring Wildflower Walk

Featured Hike: Bakers Mountain Spring Wildflower Walk

Published: April 10, 2023

2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina and we invite you to spend it at Catawba County Parks! This series of articles will help you do that with details on suggested routes across our four parks. Our next featured hike is a Spring Wildflower Walk at Bakers Mountain Park.

Walk Statistics:
   Distance: 1.6 miles round-trip
   Estimated Time: 45min-1hr excluding time to stop and smell the flowers
   Elevation Gain: 300 feet
   Difficulty: Easy

Walk Overview:
Bakers Mountain Park is home to Catawba County’s highest elevation point. This 1.6-mile route was designed to showcase the park’s diversity of spring wildflowers, including trillium, bellwort, Solomon’s seal, little brown jugs, iris, anemone, bloodroot and many more. The wildflower walk is highly seasonal, with flowers blooming at various times during the spring, from late March to early June, peaking around the middle of April.

A spring wildflower walk is a bit like a scavenger hunt; it requires frequent stops and careful observation to seek out blooms that are often small and dispersed over a wide area. Different wildflowers blossom at different times and they don’t last long; visits even just a few days apart can result in different sightings. Walk slowly and allow your eyes to adjust to focusing on fine details. Observe closely, leave nothing but footprints (being careful not to trample on the flowers), and take nothing but photos.

Directions to Trailhead:
From I-40, take exit 121.  At the top of the ramp from either direction, turn right to travel south on Old Shelby Road, bearing left at the intersection with George Hildebran Road.  After traveling approximately 4.1 miles from I-40, turn left onto Bakers Mountain Road. Park entrance is to the left at the end of the road. The hike begins to the left of the park’s information board, at the western trailhead of the Bakers Mountain Loop blazed in red. 

Walk Description & Details:
From the information board located at the start of the park’s parking lot loop, go left (away from the park office) to the western trailhead of the Bakers Mountain Loop. As you approach the start of the trail, you can’t miss the distinctive flowers of the fothergilla major shrub blooming here for several weeks in April. Delightfully fragrant with a slight honey scent, the tiny white petal-less flowers form dense clusters resembling a bottlebrush, each terminal spike 1-3 inches long appearing along with or just after foliage emerges. Commonly called mountain witch alder and a member of the witch hazel family, the plant is noted for excellent fall color when its blue-green glossy leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange and scarlet.  

Begin on the red-blazed trail, which travels on a rolling terrain along the southwestern border of the park. The wide, rooty, hard-packed path starts out flat but climbs slightly at 550 feet as it curves around to the left to parallel Bakers Mountain Road. The trail meanders, twists and turns as it follows the boundary, but remains relatively flat. Information about the trees, shrubs and plants inherent to the area that can be found on the interpretive signs placed around the park are especially plentiful in this section. The area is heavily sprinkled throughout in white when dogwood trees flower in April and when mountain laurel blossoms in May.

The bank on the left side within the first tenth of a mile is a good area to spot mountain bellwort, a North Carolina native wildflower in the lily family. It blooms early April even before the leaves fully develop, its tubular, solitary creamy-yellow drooping flower made up of six elongated petals measuring no more than an inch in length. It is one of the smaller lily species in the state, normally growing to a height of just 6-8 inches. Alongside of the bellwort here you will find Solomon’s seal and its asparagus family relative, false Solomon’s seal, so named for the scar that the plant forms at the point where the previous year’s growth detaches, the scar similar in appearance to the Seal of Solomon, the predecessor of the Star of David. Both native woodland plants produce long, arching stems with numerous alternate elliptical leaves but can be distinguished by their flowers and berries. In spring, Solomon’s seal produces bell-shaped yellowish-green to greenish-white flowers that hang down in clusters from the leaf axils; false Solomon’s seal has fluffy clusters of creamy white flowers at the ends of the stems. After flowering, marble-sized berries which turn dark blue in late summer appear on Solomon’s seal while small, pea-size, ruby-red berries develop on false Solomon’s seal. Both plants flower for approximately 2-3 weeks in mid-late April and into May.

At a quarter-mile in, the path descends down, passing a spot with a large quartz in the middle of the trail. This area is home to the sweetshrub, also known as Carolina allspice or sweet Betsy, whose unusual, strap-like, maroon-colored buds and flowers give off a sweet banana-strawberry fragrance when blooming throughout April. At the base of the shrub in late May to early June blooms skullcap, a medium-height wildflower whose name refers to its purplish-blue, two-lipped flowers’ resemblance to helmets worn by European soldiers, and beardtongue, so named for its purplish tubular flowers’ long, hairy filament protruding from the middle, giving the appearance of a fuzzy tongue.

The trail starts to climb at 0.31 miles then levels out as it veers away from the road deeper into the park and passes a picnic table on the left at 0.4 miles. It soon begins a gradual descent that gets a little steeper at 0.48 miles where it becomes more rooty and rocky, so watch your footing. Along the way here, look for the Appalachian golden banner, a rare perennial listed a NC Special Concern Species until May 2021. A member of the pea family, it grows in small colonies and blooms with bright yellow flowers in dense clusters at the ends of branches. The decline gets a bit steeper at 0.53 miles as the trail curves to the right, decorated by fly poison that flowers here in May with a dense cone-shaped inflorescence of small white blossoms atop a 12-24 inch stalk. Pulp from a crushed bulb, mixed with sugar, is used to poison flies, hence the species name.

Just before the trail comes parallel to a small creek at 0.62 miles and a picnic table at 0.65 miles, it passes through a section where you’ll find rosebay rhododendron and spicebush. The largest evergreen rhododendron and the state flower of Virginia, the rosebay can reach 30 feet high in favorable sites. Its bright pink buds open in June into large pink-margined white bell-shaped flowers that grow in clusters of 16-24, reminiscent of large apple blossoms. A more delicate shrub, the spicebush explodes here in early spring with bright yellow florets that appear before the leaves in clusters similar to pom-poms and in late summer with red berry-like fruit, its leaves aromatic with a spicy, citrusy smell when crushed, earning the bush an alternate name of wild allspice.

The moist and rich soil along the creek makes this area the ideal habitat for most of the wildflowers in the park. Halberd-leaved violets, which can be seen in other spots on this hike, are especially prolific here, coloring the ground in yellow from March through April. Named for the resemblance of the plant’s leaf shape to a halberd, a sword used in ancient times, it features arrowhead-shaped, uniquely variegated foliage and delicate, yellow blossoms with purplish nectar lines. As the trail starts to descend down to a bridge over a creek on the right at map stand 1 at 0.71 miles, the bank on the left is blanketed with dwarf iris, its showy, small, yellow-throated, lilac-blue flowers emerging on short stalks mid-late April. Do not cross the bridge; keep straight instead, passing a bench on the right as you approach a water feature at 0.72 miles. While not tall enough to be considered a waterfall, the drop is quite scenic, especially after a heavy rain, dropping from a small rock ledge in 2 or 3 distinct streams. 

Continue on a slight descent down the rooty trail as it parallels the stream and levels out at an area where you’ll find mapleleaf viburnum blooming from late April to early June. A medium-sized shrub that grows to about 3-4 feet tall, it features maple-like leaves and a profusion of broad, flat-topped clusters of small, white flowers appealing to butterflies, followed by beautiful blue-black fall berries popular with birds. Like the viburnum, black cohosh blooms here in late spring when other woodland flowers have faded, its tall spires of tiny, white, fuzzy flowers producing a musky odor that attracts a variety of pollinators. Black cohosh has medicinal properties that date back to Native Americans, as does another plant found in this area: the partridgeberry. An evergreen trailing vine, the partridgeberry displays small, fragrant flowers with four brilliant white petals that unite into a funnel-shaped tube fringed with hairs; its May flowers turn to attractive scarlet berries in July, generally lasting through winter and into the following spring.

The highlight of any spring wildflower walk for many will be sight of trillium, and three varieties of the plant can be spotted at 0.8 miles as the trail curves sharply to the right: toadshade, which blooms in March; wake robin, which blooms in April; and Catesby’s, which blooms in May. Members of the lily family, the species name is based on the prefix tri as trilliums have 3 leaves, 3 petals and 3 sepals in perfect symmetry atop a 6-12” stem. The blossoms come in an array of colors; maroon, white or pink shades can be seen here atop large leaves a solid, bright-green color or a mottled darker shade, all equally impressive and striking.

The trail crosses over a creek on a wooden platform at 0.82 miles and ascends gently to the connector trail on the right at map stand 2. Pinxter azalea can be seen blooming here in April, a stunning display of lavish clusters of pink funnel-shaped flowers embellished with long curved stamens protruding from the middle. Take a right onto the connector trail and continue on the rooty surface on a slight incline parallel to the creek. Fan clubmoss, ebony spleenwort and numerous varieties of ferns (royal, bracken, New York, hay-scented, and Christmas among them) adorn the banks as the trail curves to the right and comes to the junction with the A.G. Clark Trail at 0.87 miles.

Turn right onto the blue-blazed trail, crossing over a wooden bridge at 0.9 miles and paralleling the creek as the path begins to climb up with a steep drop-off on the right. It is the bank on the left here across from the water feature between 0.94-0.99 miles that is home to the largest concentration of wildflowers at Bakers Mountain Park, including the following: 

  • hepatica (aka liverwort): an early spring bloomer in the buttercup family with blue, white, or pink flowers that close at night and on rainy days;
  • foam flower: named for its masses of foamy white flowers that emerge on long, thin stems from a clump of heart-shaped leaves;
  • wind flower (aka wood anemone): another early bloomer in the buttercup family with a delicate, solitary white flower;
  • rue anemone: taller variety of anemone than the wind flower, it rises 9 inches or more and bears 1-6 stalked flowers in shades of pink or white;
  • golden Alexander: a short-lived perennial in the carrot family with a large, flat-topped flower head of clusters of tiny, yellow flowers; and
  • bloodroot: a member of the poppy family with a solitary white flower and a bright yellow middle only revealed when the bloom opens in full sun after being closed at night.

This spot also offers another chance to again see mountain bellwort, trillium, halberd-leaved violets and dwarf iris.

Walk past the bridge on the right at 0.99 miles as the trail curves to the left away from the creek and inclines moderately on a rocky and rooty surface. You’ll spot Robin’s plantain blooming in this area in April, a member of the daisy family which it closely resembles with its lavender-blue to white flowers with yellow centers. Look up when visiting in late April so not to miss the fringetree that displays fragrant, creamy white fringed flower clusters that give the tree a nickname of “old man’s beard.” Pass a bench on the right at 1.02 miles, a few steps before the ruins of an old homesite and a memorial to one of its residents, A.G. Clark, a decorated US Army soldier killed in action in World War II.

As the trail comes to the junction with the orange-blazed Chestnut Ridge Trail at map stand 8 at 1.11 miles, it ascends into a chestnut oak forest where wild blueberry bushes flower in spring and fruit in summer. Past the intersection, the trail descends steeply down to a bridge over a creek at 1.15 miles; loose rocks and larger boulders in this section require caution on the descent. Along the creekbed, yellowroot grows 1-3 feet tall, flowering in early April with small, star-shaped purple-brown blossoms in crowded, terminal clusters; the roots of the shrub are employed in herbal medicine and used as dye. On the other side of the bridge, the trail continues on an incline, still rocky and rooty, the banks adorned by the two-tone evergreen heart-shaped leaves of the little brown jug plant which hides its unique urn-shaped flower at ground level when it blooms in April. Pass a bench on the left at 1.18 miles as you come to a spur path on the right leading to another bench located at a rock outcrop above a gully, another spot in the park where rosebay rhododendron can be seen blooming in June.

Retrace your steps out of the bench spur and take a right turn back onto the blue-blazed trail at the intersection at 1.25 miles. The path continues on a gradual ascent, curving to the right as it comes to a junction with the red connector trail at map stand 7 at 1.28 miles. Bear right to stay on the blue-blazed trail as it descends and veers to the right before starting a gradual ascent on the home stretch back to the parking area. The sides of the path, which may be sprinkled in yellow with more halberd-leaved violets, showcase a distinctive blotched green leaf with a purple underside in spots where the crane-fly orchid will poke through in summer after disappearing completely for 2 months in spring. The trail curves to the left at 1.4 miles, lined with mountain laurel that blooms in May with bell-shaped flowers whose coloring resembles that of peppermint candies, as the path comes to a picnic shelter on the right and a stand on the left with information about the park’s flowers.

The path, now paved, climbs gently up to meet with the ADA-accessible loop around the parking area; turn right at the junction at 1.48 miles. A few steps ahead, look just behind story board number 10 for the bright yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers of the Carolina jessamine vine, the state flower of South Carolina that blooms here in early April. At a switchback at 1.52 miles, the bank on the left is host to trailing arbutus, also known as mayflower, a creeping evergreen plant with sweet-scented pink or white trumpet-shaped flowers that appear in March. Pass another picnic shelter at 1.54 miles and curve to the right, continuing on the paved LITeracy trail past the park’s seasonal butterfly garden at 1.58 miles for a return to the Bakers Mountain Loop trailhead to complete the walk at 1.61 miles.

Mileage Breakdown:

  • 0.00 – start of hike at western trailhead of the Bakers Mountain Loop
  • 0.71 – bridge over stream (map stand 1)
  • 0.73 – water feature
  • 0.83 – junction with blue connector trail (map stand 2)
  • 0.87 – junction with blue A.G. Clark trail 
  • 0.97 – water feature
  • 0.99 – bridge over stream
  • 1.04 – Clark homestead site and memorial
  • 1.11 – junction with orange Chestnut Ridge trail (map stand 8)
  • 1.15 – bridge over stream
  • 1.20 – junction with bench spur
  • 1.28 – junction with red connector trail (map stand 7)
  • 1.44 – picnic shelter and information board
  • 1.48 – junction with paved LITeracy trail
  • 1.54 – picnic shelter
  • 1.58 – seasonal butterfly garden
  • 1.61 – end of hike at western trailhead of the Bakers Mountain Loop

Visitor Reviews:
Amazing little hidden gem of Catawba County. Nice and well maintained! Awesome trails with beautiful views! Best time to visit is mid-late March for all the blooms and Fall for all the beautiful foliage… Highly recommend this family/pet friendly place. (Google Review)

Very nice way to spend an afternoon. Challenging trails (unless you're a pro) and clean restrooms at the ranger office. Lots of informative signage for local flora and a couple cool old homestead sites. (Google Review)

Fantastic place! Several well marked, color coded trails crisscross these well-trodden woods! Didn't see a speck of litter the whole day. This jewel of a county park is as well-kept as can be! The markers and historic information plaques are very strategically placed along whichever trail one chooses to trek. (Google Review)

There are multiple trails with different distances. The park has clean restrooms, plenty of picnic areas and benches. The trails are all very well marked. (Google Review)

Beautiful this time of year. Saw a lot of spring flowers. The stream is running. Lovely spot for an after dinner walk. (Google Review)

Walk Video:

Other Routes in the Series: