These doom and gloom late winter early spring days in Wellington had me missing those sunny Colorado summers. THE best part of summer is when the mountains burst with colorful wildflowers. The following are the greatest places to lose yourself in endless fields of color.
Crested Butte is small little mountain town nestled in the Elk Ranges of Central Colorado. This historic town is known as the wildflower capital of Colorado with streams of people arriving here in early to mid July for the annual wildflower festival.
The alpine meadows, wetlands, streams, steep mountain hillsides, and aspen forest edges are packed with all of the wildflower favorites. Alpine daisies, columbines, penstemon, elephant flowers, fireweed, asters, bistort flowers, lupines, alpine yarrow…you name it, Crested Butte has heaps of it.
Some of the best wildflower walks are along Washington Gulch, Mount Crested Butte, Brush Creek, Daisy Pass, or the Snodgrass Trail.
If you prefer mountain biking, try the Lupine Trail or the 401. These can be walked (or run), but there are a lot of bikers so beware.
If you want a good climb, head up to Emerald Lake near Schofield Pass.
Handies Peak and the American Basin
Although Crested Butte gets all of the glory, my personal favorite wildflower location is the American Basin near Lake City. With endless fields of columbines and penstemons and indian paint brush lined streams, surrounded by green hillsides and rocky peaks this basin is hands down THE BEST display of wildflowers in the state. While you are there, you can also climb one of the easiest of the state’s 58 peaks over 14,000 ft here.
Handies Peak, 14,048ft is a class 1 walkup with sweeping views of the basin below. Although your lungs struggle from the lack of oxygen, the walk up this peak is fairly gentle compared to others of this height. Not long after I arrived at the summit, a six year old girl and her mother joined me.
Ice Lakes Basin
Ice Lakes Basin is a pretty close second in my wildflower rating, but arguably an even more beautiful hike than the American Basin. The basin sits between the towns of Ouray and Silverton in southwest Colorado. Drive the Million Dollar Highway between the two town to explore the mining relics before immersing yourself in a wildflower paradise.
The wildflower meadows leading to Ice and Island Lakes are filled with alpine daisies, alpine yarrow, columbines and indian paint brushes between snow melt fed streams and conifer forests.
The reflection of the surrounding peaks and the bottom of the turquoise waters intersect at Ice and Island Lakes. Although tempting, these waters remain far too frigid for swim even on the hottest days.
Mount Sneffels and the Yankee Boy Basin
Just outside Ouray, check out Yankee Boy Basin. The road to the basin climbs over the famous Imogene Pass to Telluride. You need a serious jeep to make it over the pass, unless you want to run the Imogene Pass race, a 17 mile run from Ouray to Telluride. The race is great fun and has a party with yummy soup at the top. Most cars will allow you to reach the basin for some easy hiking through wildflower meadows.
Head up and over Mt Sneffels, a jagged 14,158 ft mountain. This is a steep scree class 2 climb up a gully with a lot of rock fall if it is filled with hikers. Wearing a helmet is highly advised. After a little class 3 move through the notch you will be treated to views of the Blue Lakes below. Drop down here for more wildflower loving.
Wetterhorn Peak and Red Cloud/Sunshine Peaks
If you are in the 14’er mood and still want to see some wildflowers check out Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 ft) or Red Cloud (14,037 ft) and Sunshine (14,034 ft) Peaks, which can be hiked together. All of the peaks are just outside the town of Lake City, which oddly gets overrun with Texans during the summer.
Wetternhorn is a Class 3+ with some serious exposure. Bring your helmet for this one. You should be able to find little snow patches all year long here. Because of the beautiful basin, easy route finding and dash of danger, this peak is considered by many to be one of the most fun 14er’s to climb.
Redcloud and Sunshine are much easier class 2 hikes, no hands required. The dirt is red in this area making you feel like you reached mars after climbing through some lovely wildflower basins. On the summit, you can look back to see Wetterhorn Peak in the distance
Fourth Of July Trail – Arapahoe Peaks
The Colorado Indian Peaks Wilderness is home to many of the best hiking and climbing routes in the state….and also some of the best wildflowers and wildlife spotting. This is my hometown trail so I venture this way often.
If you are simply interested in wildflowers, follow the Fourth of July Trail until it forks to nearby mountain climbs. While the massings here aren’t quite as expansive as other wildflower destinations, the diversity of flowers is large along this steep climb past several waterfalls. The green mertensia and penstemon are common throughout the summer here.
If you want to continue hiking, head up to South Arapahoe Peak (13,400 ft) and North Arapahoe Peak (13,500 ft) to check out views of the Arapahoe Glacier below. South AP is a fairly straightforward climb. The ridgeline towards North AP has some serious exposure and requires a few class 4 moves that were challenging with my short legs.