Top Wildflower Viewing In Colorado’s Mountains

July 25, 2011 3:19 PM

james peak 7 15 11 041 Top Wildflower Viewing In Colorados Mountains

James Brophy of Golden took this photo on July 15 "on the way up to James Peak from Loch Lomond."

There are few more splendid scenes than meadows blanketed with wildflowers. The early bloomers follow the receding snow. Wildflower season generally is June through late August, with the third week in July considered peak wildflower time in the high country. Colorado’s state flower, the familiar blue columbine, grows in clusters in shady ravines, forest clearings and rocky slopes. Some flowers grow along wetlands and moist stream sides, others thrive in dry, disturbed soil and still others grow in challenging tundra conditions. Wildflower viewing and photography are not drive-by experiences; hiking is mandatory. The best trails are nicknamed “century hikes” for the 100 or more varieties that grow there.

Copper Lake Trail to Judd Falls

Crested Butte
Trailhead: Gothic Rd., on the right 1/3 mile past Gothic town site.

Judd Falls are located at the edge of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The wide and easy 1-mile trail is flanked by a profusion of wildflowers including fireweed, cinquefoil, chiming bells, valerian, red and blue columbine, daisies and sunflowers all set against the dramatic backdrop of Gothic Mountain. It passes through beautiful stands of aspen and ends at the Judd Falls Overlook where Copper Creek cascades down the rocks. The annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival ( takes place the second weekend in July.

Gore Creek Trail

Trailhead: I-70 to Exit 180 (east Vail). Take two lefts onto South Frontage Rd. 2.3 miles to Gore Creek Bridge next to Gore Creek Campground.

This flower-rich, 3-mile trail with 1,200 feet of elevation gain enters the Eagles Nest Wilderness with different types of wildflowers along the way. The sections feature showy varieties such as cow parsnip and giant hyssop. Later, more delicate wildflowers like harebells and monkshood appear. Then come cinquefoil, aspen sunflower and orange sneezeweed, a pretty member of the aster family with an unappealing name. Rocky slopes are habitat to yellow stonecrop, scarlet gilia and Indian paintbrush. White bog orchids appear among the aspen. The upper reaches of the trail present mountain balm, wild geranium, wild rose, salsify, harebells, pussytoes, penstamon and many more, for this is a century hike.

Mayflower Gulch

Copper Mountain
Trailhead: I-70 to Exit 195 (Hwy 91 – Copper Mountain/Leadville); south 6.1 miles. Trailhead is on the left.

This 2.3-mile route combines spectacular wildflowers with remnants of Colorado’s mining history. The trail follows on old mining road above Mayflower Creek en route to the old Boston Mine. Enchanting elephantilla (aka, little pink elephant), bitter cress and brook saxifrage are found in boggy wetlands near the creek. Western paintbrush, tall chiming bells and Parry clover occupy higher, drier ground. Dwarf lupine, chiming bells, anemone and bistort are among the species grow among the structures remaining from the old Boston Mine set in an enormous basin formed by Crystal, Pacific and Fletcher Mountains.

Tundra World Nature Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park
Trailhead: Trail Ridge Rd., at the Rock Cut.

This ½-mile interpretive trail puts the harsh and rugged tundra environment within nearly everyone’s reach. It is paved for wheelchair use, but it takes a hearty wheelchair hiker or companion to ascend the modest 260 feet from an elevation of 12,110 feet. The flowers that grow in this challenging environment above the treeline are small, tough and deep-rooted to withstand the harsh environment. Low-growing Indian paintbrush, forget-me-not, Alpine avens, bistort and sky pilot are some of the species that have adapted to these conditions.

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