May is the best month of the year for wildflowers in the Northeast. As forests awaken from their winter slumber, the ground explodes with spring ephemerals blooming in the brief sunny window before the trees leaf out and seal the woods in deep shade. Explore these choice destinations to see them in their greatest riots, but please remember: Enjoy them. Don’t pick them.
Shelburne Pond, Shelburne, Vermont
Rocky shores and limestone cliffs ring 432-acre Shelburne Pond, the largest undeveloped body of water in the Lake Champlain Valley. Calcium-rich soil provides habitat for a diversity of wildflowers, including vast expanses of red and white trillium, as well as bloodroot, hepatica, wild ginger, and blue cohosh. Located in the 1,011-acre H. Laurence Achilles Natural Area, the pond makes an ideal paddling destination or you can follow the nature trail that begins from the public boat launch and explores the preserve’s blooming diversity.
Bartholomew’s Cobble, Ashley Falls, Massachusetts
Named for a pair of rocky limestone knobs protruding above the landscape, this 329-acre preserve encompasses more forest types than any other spot in Berkshire County. More than 800 species of plants grow here, including 45 varieties of ferns and extensive stands of wildflowers. In recognition of this diversity, the National Park Service designated the Cobble as a National Natural Landmark in 1971. Five miles of trail explore the preserve, with the densest collections of wildflowers found along the Ledges, Craggy Knoll, and Cedar Hill trails. A scenic vista from atop Hurlburt’s Hill is an added bonus.
Arcadia Wildlife Management Area, Tiverton, Rhode Island
The largest parcel of protected land in Rhode Island, 14,000-acre Arcadia WMA includes ponds, brooks, sand-plain forest, lush woodlands, open fields, and wildflowers in all directions. Long hikes are possible through a variety of terrain, from the recommended short amble along Falls River on the Ben Utter Trail to a full tour of the park and its many ecosystems on the Yellow Dot, Barber, and Escoheag trails. Flowers are abundant here, but people are not. Two backcountry campsites and a drive-up campground add possibilities for a multi-day adventure.
Philbrick-Cricenti Bog, New London, New Hampshire
Watch a quaking bog ripple outward as you walk across wooden boardwalks and scope for carnivorous sundew and pitcher plants, whose flowers are as prehistoric as their eating habits. Located a short distance off I-89 in the town of New London, the site protects a kettle hole bog left behind by the last ice age. The preserve entrance welcomes you with a yellow blaze of marsh marigold flowers before you head out to look for blooming cranberries, calla lilies, and rare orchids along the preserve’s three short loop paths.
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
Pack in a full spectrum of Maine ecology, from ocean shore to bald mountaintop, with multitudes of wildflowers along the way. Before you hit the trails, take a walk through the park’s Wild Gardens of Acadia in the Sieur de Monts Spring area, which labels many of the wildflower species and highlights which are in bloom at the moment. Then put your newfound knowledge to use on the carriage roads between Eagle Lake and Witch Hole Pond, which pass through a multitude of ecosystems and wildflower sites.
Six Mile Creek, Ithaca, New York
From Lake Cayuga, Six Mile Creek ripples for six miles through a diverse terrain of gorges, waterfalls, and profuse wildflowers. The highlight is the Elizabeth Mulholland Wildflower Preserve, awash in early May with white and red trillium, Dutchmen’s breeches, hepatica, bloodroot, white and red baneberries, blue and black cohosh, mayapple, and violets. From the preserve entrance off Giles Street, a popular walking trail winds through the sanctuary and then continues along the creek for some distance, passing by a series of waterfalls and lakes, and winding through a shale gorge peppered with Devonian fossils.
Info: Ithaca Visitors Bureau; 800-284-8422; www.visitithaca.com/attractions
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, New Hope, Pennsylvania
Established in 1934 to conserve Pennsylvania’s native flora, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve today protects nearly 1,000 species of trees, shrubs, ferns and, of course, wildflowers. A network of more than two dozen interlinked paths wind through the 100-acre preserve, providing options for up to two and a half miles of rambles. The paths are mellow, level, and ideally suited for botanical study. The visitor center offers a series of free interpretive maps and guides to help you navigate the various ecosystems, or you can take advantage of the free naturalist-led tour included with the $5 admission fee.
Info: www.bhwp.org; 215-862-2924