Have you seen the Oconee Bell? Spring is the perfect time to spot this rare flower. It doesn’t bloom in very many places, but Devils Fork State Park is one of the few places you can see the Oconee Bell.
For even more hiking suggestions see our list of best hikes near Greenville.
The sides of the streambed are blanketed in waxy, red-tinged leaves, small white flowers visible only upon a closer look. Had we not traveled to Devils Fork State Park specifically to see this delicate wildflower, we might have hiked right past the colonies of this rare plant.
About the Oconee Bell
The Oconee Bell is only found in a few locations in the southern Appalachians, in moist, wooded areas along the streams of Georgia, North, and South Carolina. The tiny flowers are one of the first to bloom in the Upstate, and attract quite the crowd to this state park better known for summer swimming and camping.
One of the rangers said “We had a brochure in the holder by the trailhead. Usually, folks finish the trail and put them right back. Last weekend cleaned us right out, there were at least a hundred; I’m going to have to print more.” (This was on our visit last year, right about the middle of the month of March.)
The flower has a very limited range in the wild, and so the appearance of the native wildflower is cause for celebration. Every year Devils Fork SP puts on the Oconee Bell Nature Walk. If you can’t make the ranger-guided walk, you can still see the Oconee Bell blooming; the flower usually blooms from mid-March to early April, and the Oconee Bell Nature Trail takes you along a dozen colonies of this unique wildflower. The park holds Bell Fest every year as well, a festival dedicated to the rare wildflower that also has lots of great local vendors. In 2022, the date is Saturday, March 19th from 10 am – 3 pm. It’s free with park entry.
The Oconee Bell Nature Trail
The trail is an easy 1.5-mile loop that takes hikers through the oak-hickory forest, past a small pond full of American toads, and alongside the creek that is home to the elusive wildflower that gives the trail its name. In addition to the Oconee Bell, dozens of other plants and trees are identified by wooden markers, and several small cascades on the creek add to the list of attractions available year-long.
If you’re headed to Devils Fork to hike the Oconee Bell trail you just follow signs to the Ranger Station. A quick stop there for a map or restrooms, and then it’s just a matter of crossing to the other side of the parking lot to the trailhead. The parking lot is on the southeast corner of Lake Jocassee, and the scenic views of the lake, Double Springs Island, and the swimming and picnic area on the southwest shore are stunning.
Bring a picnic to eat on the lake, or upon finishing your hike circle around to Buckeye Drive where you will find picnic shelters and a playground.
In any case, make sure you practice what the Park Naturalist terms “belly botany” – to get an up-close look at the low-lying flowers you’ll have to get close to the ground. There are several locations where the colonies are right on the trail, so it’s relatively easy for all the kids (and adults) in your group to get a good look at the Bell. Remember, for your safety and the protection of the bells, please stay on the trail!
Enjoy the Oconee Bell
Devils Fork State Park
161 Holcombe Circle
Salem, SC 29676
Visit the website Devil’s Fork Oconee Bell Nature Trail.
This post was originally published on Femme au Foyer.
Enjoy your hike, and know that spring is on the way – the Oconee Bell says it’s so!
There is a very small patch of these flowers in Mauldin,D.C. behind the old Bill headquarters that barely anyone knows about.