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Wildflower Pilgrimage
Wildflower Pilgrimage | Image via Dennis McCarthy

KNOXVILLE—As flowers blossom and birds and insects emerge, so will hundreds of pilgrims—as they head to the Great Smoky Mountains for the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. In its sixty-second year, it is a tradition led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Wildflower Pilgrimage | Image via Dennis McCarthy
Wildflower Pilgrimage | Image via Dennis McCarthy

The Wildflower Pilgrimage began with a handful of UT botanists and now involves as many as a thousand participants. This year’s event—a four-day exploration of plant and animal life—will be held April 25 –28. Online registration is now open at and onsite registration begins April 24 at Gatlinburg’s M. L. Mills Conference Center.

The pilgrimage kicks off with a welcoming luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25, at the Mills Conference Center. It will feature entertainer Doug Elliott who will weave traditional and contemporary plant lore and scientific information into a lively and informative performance called “Weeds for your Needs.” Elliott takes center stage again for the Wednesday evening program, “Weeds, Woodslore and Wildswoods Wisdom,” which is free and open to the public. Featured evening speakers on Thursday and Friday are Bob Miller, Great Smoky Mountains National Park public affairs officer, and Tim Spira, Clemson University professor of botany.

The event includes 134 guided walks and indoor presentations that cover the region’s rich wildflowers, fauna, ecology, and cultural and natural history. The 115 pilgrimage leaders are specialists in mosses, ferns, wildflowers, fungi, birds, bears, bats, wild hogs, salamanders and more.

Wildflowers Pilgrimage | Image via Dennis McCarthy
Wildflowers Pilgrimage | Image via Dennis McCarthy

The event also features a photography contest, an art exhibition at the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, a native plant sale, and numerous exhibitors at the registration site.

“Annually this event attracts people from more than 35 states and other countries,” said Ken McFarland, chair of the Wildflower Pilgrimage organizing committee and lecturer in the biology department. “It’s a unique opportunity to experience the most biologically diverse area in the continental U.S.”

“The Wildflower Pilgrimage hosts many returnees as well as interested newbies like us on expert-led hikes,” said Nancy Keller Coxe, a 2011 attendee from Ohio. “We discovered wildflowers, trees and shrubs, mosses, and Appalachian history of Tennessee and North Carolina. At the time, we felt rather overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge dispensed by enthusiastic professionals but will never walk the woods again as blind.”

Tickets are $75 per person for two or more days. Single-day tickets are available for $50. Student tickets are $10 and must be verified with a student ID.

The Wildflower Pilgrimage is a collaboration among the UT Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society, the City of Gatlinburg Department of Tourism, the Friends of the Smoky Mountains National Park, the Gatlinburg Garden Club, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

For more information, call 865-436-7318, ext. 222, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00, p.m., or visit Lodging information is also available at this site.

C O N T A C T:

Ken McFarland (865-974-6841,

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,