Colorado Wildflower Hikes

by | Feb 24, 2021 | Destinations, Travel and Education, Uncategorized

Pawnee Buttes and Wildflowers in Northeast Colorado
Pawnee Buttes and Wildflowers in Northeast Colorado

Coming out of the Winter months in Colorado, there is an anxious optimism to get outdoors and see newly awakened plants and a myriad of vibrant wildflowers as they burst from their hibernation onto Mother Natures’ canvas. Taking Colorado wildflower hikes is a fabulous way to see nature’s glory.

Wildflowers in Colorado are spectacular. They blanket fields and meadows with splashes of intense color and texture. Their natural beauty against dazzling blue skies and the backdrops of the endless horizon of the Great Plains to Colorado’s majestic mountains offer boundless viewing possibilities to see nature’s exquisite compositions. That said, it is well worth the effort to make plans to get out and enjoy their explosive arrival on some Colorado wildflower hikes. 

All in all, whether you plan on a visit to the Plains and lower elevations for earlier blooms or you head to the high country where the season starts later, there is a multitude of opportunities to explore some of the best wildflower viewings in the U.S.

Here are 6 fabulous areas for Colorado Wildflower Hikes

Crested Butte

Create Butte, known as the wildflower capital of Colorado, is a prime location for your visit. Wildflower season here, as in most of the Rocky Mountain areas, is June-September. However, in lower elevations and where the snow melts earlier, you will find blooms as early as April and May. In some areas, they say if it isn’t ski season, it’s wildflower season.

Every July since 1986, people flock to Crested Butte for a 10-day wildflower festival. Not only do they come to enjoy the beauty of the area, but it also offers great food, bird watching, fantastic hikes, and workshops. It is a Mecca for photographers who are keen to capture nature’s handiwork in their own art.

Crested Butte Wildflower Festival Photo by John Miller 1920 by 1153 pixels
Crested Butte Wildflower Festival (Colorado Lupine) Photo by John Miller

While there are numerous trails of varying difficulty (AllTrails lists 56), they each boast dozens of varieties of wildflowers. The alpine landscape will be flush with a cornucopia of sunflowers, Indian paintbrush, columbine, lupine, daisies, fireweed, lilies, cornflower, flax, penstemon, and other native varieties erupting from the landscape.

Trail 401 is a 15.4-mile trail of moderate difficulty exploding with wildflowers. Highly rated by hikers and located in the Gothic Natural Area

Trail 403 is a popular option as a 7.8-mile moderate out-and-back hike. This is a well-maintained trail connecting Washington Gulch to Gothic and is also a wonderful wildflower viewing area.

There are numerous other trails from easy to hard in difficulty. In other words, there are options for anyone wanting to venture out and explore on their own.

Maroon Bells

You will find several trails in this area. Also, depending on the trail, they are anywhere from 1 to 13 miles round trip. Because the Maroon Bells trailhead is such a heavily used recreation area, there are specific driving and access restrictions during the summer. That said, it is certainly worthwhile to explore the area, but you need to research these restrictions ahead of time.

The easy 3-mile Scenic Loop Trail is one of the most popular trails at Maroon Bells. Without a doubt, the views are stunning! It’s a trail loop that follows Maroon Creek and its fast-moving water for most of the hike. Furthermore, the wildflowers along the way are gorgeous.

These are other hikes of varying difficulty
  • Maroon Lake Trail
  • Crater Lake Trail
  • Snowmass/Maroon trail
  • Willow Lake Trail
Maroon Bells on Colorado wildflower hikes Photo by Danette Ulrich
Maroon Bells on Colorado wildflower hikes Photo by Danette Ulrich
Wildflowers near Maroon Bells Photo by Danette Ulrich
Colorado Wildflower hikes near Maroon Bells Photo by Danette Ulrich

Other popular sites and activities near Maroon Bells beyond taking epic Colorado wildflower hikes are backpacking, camping, taking in stunning mountain scenery, visiting lakes, meadows, creeks, alpine tundra, animal viewing of moose, deer, beaver, and elk. Additionally, the list would not be complete if we didn’t include seeing the spectacular fall aspens in their colorful glory.

Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands Colorado

Pawnee National Grasslands lie 35 miles east of Fort Collins and 25 miles northeast of Greeley in Weld County, Colorado. It is a 30-by-60 mile area of 193,060 acres. They are managed as Pawnee National Grasslands by the Forest Service and the National Parks Service.

This is an internationally known birding area. The grasslands support many bird species, especially during migration.

A visit to Pawnee National Grasslands is special at any time. But because of its lower elevation, various wildflowers and the indigenous sand cherry bush bloom between April-September. Some wildflowers that grow in the area are evening primrose, prickly poppy, coneflower, flax, and prickly gilia.

Hiking, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, and stargazing are also popular activities.

Pawnee Buttes Trail 4.7 miles out and back

Routt County and Steamboat Springs

To begin your exploration start at the Yampa River Botanic Park

Yampa River Botanic Park is 6 acres of soothingly, lovely gardens in the center of Steamboat Springs. Additionally, they are free to visit., As well, it’s a great place to learn about plants and wildflowers in this part of Colorado.

Early wildflower blooms generally start in mid-May after snowmelt. At higher elevations of 10,000 feet or so, flowers won’t arrive until June. And, anything above 10,000 feet doesn’t debut until July. Routt County botanist Karen Vail suggests Red Dirt Trail, Fish Creek Falls, Uranium Mine Trail, or Emerald Mountain for viewing varieties of glacier lilies, bluebells, yellow violets, larkspur, iris, sunflowers, and more.

A few Colorado wildflower hikes in Routt county include:

  • The Sarvis Creek Trail #1105: a 10.1-mile
  • Stagecoach Reservoir’s Elk Run Trail: 5.1 mile
  • Vaughn Lake and East Fork Trail
  • Rabbit Ears Pass near Dumont Lake Best time to view: early summer. Watch for Colorado columbines, Indian paintbrushes, larkspur, and others

Rocky Mountain National Park

Pollinator wildflower from National Park Service

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the nation. Furthermore, its elevations range from 7,860 feet to 14,259 feet. In ancient history glaciers sculpted its terrain into 4 ecological zones. These include Montane (5,600-9,500 feet), Subalpine (9,000-11,000 feet), Alpine Tundra (Above 11,000 feet), and Glaciers. As a result, Rocky Mountain National Park’s variety of ecosystems support hundreds of wildflower species. Below are some examples of interesting and beautiful flowers in the park.

Hikes in the Park

  • Cub Lake Trailhead in the Moraine Park area is a 4.6-mile out-and-back hike. You can extend this trek to include a 6.2-mile Pool Loop where you can see over 80 varieties of wildflowers.
  • On the half-mile hike from Bear Lake to Nymph lake, you’ll be able to take in the bright yellow floating pond lilies.
  • Situated near the top of Trail Ridge Road near Rock Cut, the Tundra Communities Trail is a great place to view wildflowers that can survive cold temperatures. High altitude species like low-growing Indian paintbrush, forget-me-nots, alpine avens, bistort, and sky pilot can be found here. Its also possible to see alpine sunflower, a variety that grows only in Rocky Mountain National Park

Roxborough State Park

Monumental in size and vibrant in color, red rock formations are a definite theme in Colorado (By the way, the name Colorado translates to red color…not exactly a revelation for most of us). These large rock formations created by wind and water offer a stunning backdrop for the burst of wildflowers in spring and summer. The result is a nature-created masterpiece of color, texture, contrast, and variety. Where the Plains transition to the Foothills, the ecology is diverse. Because of this varied environment, many varieties of wildflowers intermingle.

The park is for day-use and popular as a close get-away for people living in the Denver area.

Willow Creek Trail

Roxborough State Park in Colorado
Roxborough State Park in Colorado

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