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We offer our “Signs of Spring” a series of guided canoe trips on selected Saturdays from April through June. This guided canoe trip balances nature observation with the quiet relaxation of a morning canoe outing. Departing at 10 a.m (you must arrive by 9:15 am). from Headwaters, each canoe trip includes all paddling gear, river shuttle, and guide service. Snacks and drinks are available for sale at the shop. Prior canoeing experience is helpful, but not necessary. Reservations are required and are secured with a 50% deposit. The cost is $60 per person, though kids under 10 who sit in the middle of the canoe cost only $30. To confirm a reservation, or for more information, call Headwaters Outfitters at (828) 877-3106.
Little Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) is just one species found along the French Broad River during Headwaters’ Signs of Spring guided canoe trip. There are over 2,500 species of wildflowers and flowering shrubs in the southern Appalachians, and many of these can be found somewhere along the French Broad River watershed. Thanks to a variety of microclimates and abundant rainfall, the French Broad hosts a beautiful array of spring flowers. The “Signs of Spring” guided trip takes full advantage of this display.
Although you can certainly see spring wildflower displays while hiking, a canoe-eye’s view offers several advantages for experiencing the new seasons’ first blooms. The banks of the French Broad offer some of the richest soils for plant growth, courtesy of regular floods that deposit nitrogen-rich sediments onto the floodplain. Abundant moisture along the river’s banks also provides ideal habitat for riparian-loving species such as orange jewelweed (seen in June), crested dwarf iris (May), bluets (April), purple phacelia (April-May), monkeyflower (June), and bee balm (June-Sept.)
Flowers may be the chief draw of the “Signs of Spring” tour, but April, in particular, is prime time for birders interested in catching sight of spring migrants passing through. You may see a vireos, warblers, tanagers and flycatchers. Sometimes, being on the river gives you a better perspective to spot birds with binoculars or a camera. Large flowering bellwort is found along the French Broad in limestone-rich pockets.Wood ducks breed along the banks, and can often be seen leading a caravan of fuzzy young through streamside deadfall. Louisiana waterthrushes, Acadian flycatchers, belted kingfishers and great blue herons are regularly spotted by canoeists on the French Broad, as well. Occasionally, an osprey or bald eagle will perch on a dead branch above the river, scanning the water below for vulnerable quarry.
River otter have really made a big comeback since the 1980s, when they were reintroduced to the Smokies. Beaver, fox, long-tailed weasels, mink and skunk can also be spotted along the French Broad.