As with almost everything else in the region, wildflowers have a short and distinct season. Don't pay attention, and you could miss them. The good news: They're easy to spot if one knows where to look. Highway departments in most states have planted medians with clovers and bluebells, and parks all over the area offer walks among the trillium, Dutchmen's breeches and bluebells.
Native plant societies provide information on what to see and when to look for it — and they come up at the top of most web searches. Examples include "Spring Wildflowers of Northern Virginia," "Adkins Arboretum," or "The Sanguine Root."
Here is an incomplete list of where to find spring wildflowers in the region. The season, for the most part, is from late March to early May.
- Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve, Lancaster County, PA: Shenk's Ferry is just north of Pequea, along the Holtwood Dam's reservoir. It's not easy to find, and Green Hill Road often washes out, making the trip a bit treacherous for those who don't own a four-wheel drive vehicle. The 50-acre site, a gift to the county from the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., includes 73 species of wildflowers. The most easily seen are mayapples, spring beauties, jack-in-the-pulpit and geraniums and Virginia bluebells. Shenk's Ferry is free and open to the public dawn to dusk daily.
- Susquehanna State Park, Havre De Grace, MD: Susquehanna State Park is gorgeous any time of the year, with its rocky terrain, historical mills and broad views of its namesake river. But it is arguably prettiest during wildflower season, usually lasting from the first week of April until June, with a peak on the early side of things depending on the weather. Those who walk along its many trails will likely see bluebells, trillium, phlox and violets. The park also offers a campground, equestrian riding trails and a place for picnicking and fishing. It's located off Interstate 95 about 35 miles north of Baltimore.
- Shenandoah Valley National Park, Luray, VA: During the fall, Shenandoah Valley National Park can get crowded with leaf-peepers. But it's just as lovely during the spring. The park offers a Wildflower Weekend every year in May. Most years, the flowers emerge in late March, with the hepatica blooming first, followed by bloodroot and yellow violets, according to the National Park's Service website. The park boasts great summer blooms as well, including columbines, milkweeds and orange impatiens along the streams.
- Thompson Wildlife Management Area, Markham, VA: Against the Blue Ridge Mountains and just seven miles from the Appalachian Trail, this preserve, operated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is known for its wildflower viewing, including large-flowered trilliums. With elevations of 700–2,200 feet and a lot of wooded areas, the preserve is also popular with hikers. Those interested in a tour with a wildflower naturalist might want to contact River and Trail Outfitters near Harper's Ferry, WV. The company's tour includes transportation. For details, visit www.rivertrail.com/hike-wildflower-guided.php.