Bluebells and other spring wildflowers carpet the ground throughout Northern Virginia beginning in March, which is a wonderful reason to take frequent walks and hikes. Here are some of the blooms to watch for on local trails. Scroll down for a list of our favorite walks for enjoying these short-lived spring beauties.
UPDATE 3/22/2020: Many of the parks and trails listed here are experiencing crowds, which makes it impossible to maintain safe social distance. We highly recommend you avoid these trails for now and use this guide to look for flowers close to home.
We have lived in Northern Virginia for 25 years, but we’re still learning about Virginia ephemerals. Our friends at Green Thumb Gardening provided expertise identifying many of these flowers. We also used the beautiful VirginiaWildflowers.org site and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about our native flora.
Spring Wildflowers in Northern Virginia
Our favorite spring wildflower is the Virginia Bluebell. This beauty takes over sandy portions of the Potomac Heritage Trail and other stream valley trails every April. They generally start growing and spreading in mid-to-late March, and peak in mid-to-late April.
Most of the blossoms are blue, but you’ll see pink, white, and mixed colors if you look closely. Our favorite place to see Virginia bluebells is on an easy hike at Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. Scroll down for more great spring wildflower hikes in Northern Virginia.
There are red, white, and yellow Trilliums in Virginia, but we have mostly seen the red variety on local walks. Three leaves, three inner leaves, three petals; they’re like a beautiful math formula. On one hike in Shenandoah, we saw the pink Trillium below.
A helpful reader shared this tip on our Facebook page: “By far the most popular springtime activity on the Thompson Wildlife Management Area is viewing wildflowers where, at the higher elevations, a remarkable display of large-flowered trillium occurs.”
Adorably shaped and named, these white blooms generally last several weeks.
Creepily named, but lovely and delicate, these white flowers really stand out in a leaf-covered forest.
Trout Lily and Toothwort
The yellow Trout Lily bloom and are gone in a flash, but Toothwort stays around for a while. The second picture gives a better view of the speckled leaves of the Trout Lily.
These delicate pink and white flowers grow in profusion along northern portions of the Potomac Heritage Trail at Riverbend and Seneca Regional Park. They are so pretty!
Wild Blue Phlox
Growing in masses along the Potomac Heritage Trail in Spring, phlox looks beautiful when mixed in with the bluebells.
In early June, Mountain Laurel crowds trails at higher elevations with beautiful white blooms. The shape of the flower is lovely even before the petals emerge. You’ll find large patches of mountain laurel on two of our favorite Northern Virginia hikes: Sugarloaf Mountain Hike to Maryland Views and Big Devils Stairs Hike to a View in Shenandoah National Park Virginia.
More Wildflowers and Growing Things in Northern VA
Spring wildflowers are not the only interesting things growing along Virginia trails. Keep an eye out for these other plants throughout the Virginia growing season.
Butterfly lovers know that milkweed leaves are the essential diet for monarch butterfly larvae. Happily, this summer flower is also beautiful to look at, and the buds are almost as interesting as the blooms. Milkweed likes swampy areas, and we see it along the Washington and Old Dominion Bridle Trail in Vienna every year.
Joe Pye Weed
Here’s a late summer bloom that likes damp places. Joe Pye Weed is also a magnet for butterflies which makes it extra photogenic. There is a nice cluster of Joe Pye near the boat ramp at Audubon Lake in Reston.
I know they aren’t wildflowers, but these polypore mushrooms are also beautiful. I think the smaller mushrooms on the log are a type of polypore called Turkey Tail, but hopefully, someone will comment if I’ve got that wrong.
I know, also not a wildflower, but fiddleheads are so cool they are worth looking for. They almost look like little seashells.
With so many beautiful birds around, be sure to take a break from looking at plants to look up in the trees. Here’s a big Pileated Woodpecker that was hammering away above the trail at Scott’s Run. A hiking family walked right under it but, sadly, never looked up to see this beauty.
You’ll also see lots of butterflies fluttering around the banks of the Potomac. Remember to stop and stand still every once in a while; it’s amazing what you’ll see.
Where to Find Spring Wildflowers in Northern Virginia
Here are some of our favorite hikes for enjoying spring wildflowers in Northern Virginia. They are abundant along the sandier banks of the Potomac River and other stream valleys. Click the link for hike info and location details.
- Potomac Heritage Trail at Riverbend Park, Great Falls
- Turkey Run Park, Great Falls
- Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, Great Falls
- Potomac Heritage Trail at Seneca Regional Park, Great Falls
- Theodore Roosevelt Island, Access from Arlington
- Red Rock Overlook Regional Park, Leesburg
- Bull Run at Manassas National Battlefield, Manassas
We’d love to hear what spring wildflowers you have seen in Northern Virginia. Please share your tips on favorite trails and places for a flowery spring wildflower hike in the comments below.
This article was published in 2018 and updated in 2020.