When it comes to sheer ability to alter a landscape and shock the human senses, you can’t beat the May blooms of a mountain laurel thicket. A month later, the thick tunnels of rhododendron display blossoms that look like purple explosions. It’s the Appalachian wake-up call after a hard winter, and nowhere is the aromatic alarm sweeter than in Savage River State Forest.
For 11 months of the year, these evergreens are dullards. But for the month long spring frolic, the ubiquitous mountain laurel erupts in clusters of white and pink cup-shaped flowers, each petal delicately marked
with a purple line.
Hike up Big Savage Mountain to find the best displays of mountain laurel and sweet-smelling honeysuckle. You’ll find the colorful, fragrant blossoms decorating a boulder-strewn approach to 3,000-foot High Knob, the loftiest point in the area. The forest’s western section, with hard-running tributaries of the Savage River (Monroe Run, Poplar Lick, and Big Run), sustains the swampy environs that the June-blooming rhododendron find so hospitable. Timing a hike to see either species in full bloom is one of the most pleasant wake-up calls a hiker could wish for.