During the spring, I’m always on the hunt for the very best spring wildflower trails. We have some lovely ones close to Huntsville, but Chet and I have hiked most of them at this point so I’m always on the lookout for a new place to go. One night a few weeks ago, I was half-heartedly typing in Google searches for “wildflower trails near me” or something along those lines, and I came across a reference to a place I’d never heard of: Taylor Hollow. The online trail reviews made it sound like a wildflower heaven on earth so I immediately started trying to figure out where this place was. Surprisingly in this day and age of “online everything,” it’s a little tricky. By going to the Nature Conservancy website, I discovered that this gem is a 163 acre preserve run by the Nature Conservancy in middle Tennessee. There’s a map with a general area there, but they strongly encourage you to email them for directions, because the place is not marked and is difficult to find. I sent off my email on a Saturday night and got a response the next Monday. After a few emails back and forth to set up some ground rules, I came away with directions to the trailhead, plus permission to blog about their preserve as long as we didn’t give out directions or an address. If you want to go (and I would encourage everybody to do so!) just contact them via email or the phone number listed on the website. Trust me – it’s worth it.
It’s been a pretty rainy stretch recently – I can’t remember the last time we had a totally rain-free weekend – so we waited a bit until we got some cooperation from the weather gods and headed up into Tennessee one rare beautiful clear Sunday morning. It is a bit of a drive from Huntsville, but with directions in hand, we had no trouble finding where we were supposed to park. I was sure that, difficult as this spot was to find, we’d be the only people there, but when we drove up there were a couple of other cars parked already. So far so good, but the next challenge would be finding the trailhead. Actually, I should correct myself there – the next challenge turned out to be getting past the “guard rooster.” This guy came strutting down the gravel drive towards us, fluffy white companion-hen in tow. I was amazed that he was so bold! Farm-boy Chet was immediately a little concerned. He knows roosters, and has tangled with some pretty mean ones in his time growing up on a farm. He recognized this guy as not just bold, but aggressive. Sure enough, as we tried to calmly head up the driveway without riling him up, he tried to block our path, then crowd us off to one side. We got past him without incident, but he followed us all the way up the drive and made me very nervous!
Once past the rooster, our next task was to find the kiosk that marks the beginning of the actual trail. This did not go terribly smoothly, to be honest. I’m not sure how much I can say without breaking my agreement with the Nature Conservancy, but I think I can say that if you see a lovely old tree-lined roadbed leading up past a barn and a pond, that’s NOT the way to go. That way did lead us to some beautiful wild blue phlox, periwinkle, pennywort, and a stand of shooting stars, though. We figured out we were wrong pretty quickly once we headed towards another farmhouse, and with just a little backtracking we found the right path. It led to a meadow and through the trees on the other side we could see the kiosk.
Up to this point on the correct trail, we hadn’t actually seen many wildflowers. We passed a stand of running cedar, but that was about it. However, under the kiosk sign was a beautiful little stand of Sweet Betsy trilliums, so things were looking up. The trail here is mostly level with just a little gentle up and down as it heads through the trees along a ridge line. The forest on either side is simply covered with Mayapples. They aren’t the showiest of flowers when they’re in bloom, and these weren’t in bloom yet, but it was still pretty amazing to me to see so many of them spreading up and down the hillside.
We soon spotted a bunch of fineleaf toothwort mixed with cutleaf toothwort, an Allegheny spurge, a couple of star chickweed, some patches of rue anemone, a swath of twinleaf, and a few more stands of trillium – both the toadshade kind and the wake-robin kind. At a spot where the trail dipped down across a tiny wet-weather streamlet I spotted one of the flowers we’d most been hoping to see – the blue eyed mary. This little plant is native to an area that goes from Tennessee north into Canada, west as far as Oklahoma, and east into New York. It is so beautiful, but it is now endangered in Tennessee. We felt very lucky to have found a small stand of them!
We kept heading down the trail and started seeing some more patches of phlox, a couple of celandine poppies, and then a big patch of dutchmen’s breeches. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen them in the wild before, so I was really excited about these! Mixed in with the dutchmen’s breeches there was also a nice stand of squirrel corn, but I’ll be honest – I didn’t even realize until we’d gotten home and looked at the pictures. The leaves and flowers are really similar! Next up were the deep, vivid purple of larkspur and more purple phlox and bent wake robin trillium. Below us, we could see a creekbed lined with green. I wondered if maybe that green could be trout lily, like that patch we’d found when we hiked Cutchenmine Trail recently.
The trail took a sharp turn to the left and headed down a set of stairs where the trail cuts between boulders. To my left, I saw a little stand of “my” Virginia bluebells that I had to stop and admire, and then, as I got to the bottom of the stairs, I was stunned to realize that all of that green we’d seen from above wasn’t trout lilies after all – it was an absolute carpet of the endangered blue eyed marys! As far as the eye could see, up and down the trail, on both sides of the creek were blue eyed marys. Acres of them! And not just blue eyed mary, but also bent wake-robin, and dwarf larkspur, and Virginia bluebells, and yellow woodland violets, and wild blue phlox, and mayapples, and twinleaf, and dutchmen’s breeches, and wood spurge, and squirrel corn, and … more blooming flowers packed into each square foot than I could have ever imagined.
The trail tees into a path that leads both ways along a creek. We wandered downstream and across the creek, admiring the lush beauty of the forest around us until we got to a road and another stand of shooting stars. We then turned around, retraced our steps back to the tee and went the other way until the trail ends next to a small bluff. It was almost funny how we’d walk along and say, “Oh here’s just some more trillium,” or “hmm more larkspur,” or “oh, back to the bluebells again,” when just 30 minutes earlier we’d been fawning over a single tiny handful of blue eyed mary and marveling over each and every trillium. It was an embarrassment of floral riches.
The only thing that could have made this trail better would have been benches so that you could safely sit someplace and absorb all the beauty. The ground was so covered with flowers, there was no place off the narrow trail where you could step without tromping on something beautiful. Taylor Hollow is the most magical place I think I’ve ever been. It might be a bit out of the way, and it might require a bit more planning to visit, but boy is it worth it.