Popular Colorado Wildflower Spots
The abundance of wildflowers in Colorado is dependent on the weather. Picturesque locations aren't always easy to get to and may require some hiking or a 4WD if you are looking for a lovely mountain backdrop. For hikes in higher elevations, allow yourself at least a couple of days to get accustomed to the air and start early to avoid the frequent afternoon thunderstorms.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, a brimmed hat, food, lots of water, good hiking boots and raingear are necessities and a GPS can be a lifesaver. I like to bring a light jacket or sweater even on warm days because the temperatures can drop suddenly. Some Colorado trail web sites offer useful details about certain trails to help hikers be better prepared, like The Bureau of Land Management's site: blm.gov.
The captivating photos I have seen from some of the locations listed below testify to their beauty. Of the locations I mention here, Crested Butte is the only one I have been to so far. So, except for the shot of Robinson Basin, the wildflowers on this page are from other parts of Colorado, but several are common and might appear in the following areas also.
Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
A four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance is required to tour the 65 mile loop, which starts from either Ouray, Lake City or Silverton in the southwest corner of Colorado. Allow at least 4 hours, fill the gas tank and go from late June to early August for the best show. The rough, sometimes muddy road goes through Engineer and Cinnamon Passes in the San Juan Mts. Several mining ghost towns and three campgrounds are along the way.
There are many miles of hiking trails where you can search for flowers. The ambitious have their choice of five fourteeners (mountains reaching over 14,000 ft. in elevation): Mt. Sneffels, Sunshine Peaks, Redcloud, Handies and Uncompahgre Peak. If you don't own a 4WD, you can rent a jeep (one near Almont cost a pricey $130 for a half day) or ATV in Lake City (north entrance) where they also have cabin rentals.
From the north entrance of the Alpine Loop heading south on hwy 110 from Lake City, just before a sharp right turn toward Cinnamon Pass, turn left to American Basin, one of the best places in Colorado to view wildflowers. If you are in good condition, continue on the path to Handies Peak, passing a lake along the way. A roundtrip including Handies summit will be from 4 ½ to 6 miles, depending on where you park (the road gets rougher as you go and there is a shallow river to cross).
Crested Butte - Central Colorado
If you are a wildflower fanatic, check out Crested Butte's annual wildflower festival usually held the second week of July when flowers are at their peak. They have a whole host of activities from garden tours, photography classes, wildflower hikes, bike rides and more (see crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com for more information). The city calls itself the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, benefiting from the abundant rain in the Elk Mountains, which encompass the city. If the weather has been favorable for wildflowers, you can even find a good selection along the local roads.
We saw many blooms while driving around the area when we arrived right after the festival in July 2009. Read about the impressive wildflower display we enjoyed while hiking to
just west of Crested Butte.
Goose Creek Trail
Meandering through Lost Creek Wilderness in Pike Forest (central Colorado SW of Denver) the Goose Creek Trail has beautiful wildflowers that peak in April through early June. Since a fire scorched sections in 2002, rich nutrients in the soil have contributed to the spread of wildflowers. Large boulders add drama to beautiful scenery and cave-like areas can be explored.
Willow Creek Trail
If you are looking for an easy hike to wildflowers, try the Willow Creek Trail in Roxborough State Park near Denver. You will find a variety of flowers with their best blooms from early May through June. You can also do a more rigorous hike in the park with over 1,000 ft. in elevation gain to Carpenter's Peak (over 6 miles round trip) with good views from the summit.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
For those who desire to plant a wildflower garden, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (wildflower.org) at The University of Texas at Austin has an EXTREMELY informative web site describing the details of 7,009 native plants. You can find which native plants are recommended for your state, see photos and read about their benefits, characteristics and how to care for them. Planting the milkweed (photo above) helps prevent the monarch's numbers from declining as they use the plants to lay their eggs and feed on the nectar.
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