Colorado wildflower hikes: Where to see the wildflowers bloom this year

The columbines and lupines, aspen daisies and mountain violets are showing off already in Colorado. By mid-July, wildflower season will reach its peak, though the chance to see blooms across the state could be relatively brief.

“If you’re going to get out, I think that the message would be to get out there soon,” said Nicola Ripley, executive director of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. “I suspect that wildflower viewing as the season goes on is going to be better in the east.”

By that, Ripley means east of the Continental Divide, where rains soaked the Front Range earlier this month. Meanwhile, on the Western Slope, the mid-June heat wave compounded a historic drought.

“My team was telling me they’re very concerned that the wildflowers are going to have a short season because they’re going to burn up,” Ripley said. “And that’s what we see when you have historically hot and dry conditions over a long period of time.”

But all is not lost for the alpine flower fields on the western side of the state. This year’s timing was further complicated by a cooler May leading up to the “oven turning on in June.” Ripley says that wildflowers in the heart of the Colorado Rockies typically experience an early July peak, and they appear to be right on schedule (as of now).

“It was looking nice, but it was dry,” Ripley said of what she’s seen blooming over the last week.

And as a general rule of thumb, if you’re searching for summer blossoms at altitude, keep this in mind:

“Wildflowers and alpine plants bloom as soon as the snow goes away,” Ripley said. “Flowers set seed and get ready for the snow to come back again. So the earlier the snow melts, the earlier the wildflowers come out.”

Here are nine hikes and activities, from the Front Range to the start of the Western Slope, where you can experience Colorado’s wildflowers firsthand over the coming weeks. Just remember, you’re there to enjoy them in their natural habitat. Leave no trace, and leave the wildflowers where they grow.

Wildflower Festival – Crested Butte

The annual festival is back this summer in Colorado’s wildflower capital. July 9-18, you can participate in more than 200 wildflower events, from guided hikes and walks, to photography and art workshops, cooking classes, birding and butterfly excursions, and private garden tours.

Shrine Pass – Vail

You can combine a visit to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens with a 4-mile out-and-back hike along Shrine Ridge, 2 miles northwest of Vail Pass in the Sawatch Mountains. You’ll start just over 11,000 feet and climb around 800 feet along the way, taking in views below of wildflower-studded meadows, and farther off of the Gore Range to the north and Mount of the Holy Cross to the southwest.

Hoosier Pass – Breckenridge

This 3-mile loop is a family-friendly wildflower option that’s above treeline, but without too much climbing involved (starting at around 11,500 feet and gaining about 700 feet in elevation throughout). The clockwise route will make for an easier ascent, but with a steeper return. There’s a big payoff at the top with 360-degree views of snow-capped peaks and crystal lakes.

Green Mountain – Boulder

You can’t go wrong with this easily accessible trail system off Boulder’s Flagstaff Road. Try the 4-mile out-and-back Green Mountain West Trail that leads you through wildflowers (already in bloom) and shady evergreens, and finishes with panoramic, mountain-peak views.

Mount Galbraith – Golden

Hikers and trail runners can already take in the wildflowers along this moderate-difficulty, 4-mile loop (using the Cedar Gulch Trail). During peak summer, plan to arrive early and bring plenty of water, as there’s little shade throughout the 928-foot climb. You’ll take in views of Denver and Golden at the top.

South Arapaho Peak – Nederland

You don’t have to climb the 13,397-foot peak to enjoy the bunches of wildflowers growing along this trail (via the Fourth of July trailhead). The road leading to the trailhead is rough, so a four-wheel-drive vehicle is best, although you can probably make it with a hardy passenger car. You should expect to hike at least a mile on the trail, but you won’t have to hike too far above treeline before you’re rewarded with colorful blooms. — Dan England

Brainard Lake Recreation Area – Nederland

Two hikes in this system should be on every Coloradan’s (and visitor’s) mid-summer bucket list: Lake Isabelle and Blue Lake. The shorter of the two leads you first past Long Lake along Pawnee Pass Trail before arriving at the Isabelle Glacier. As for the longer (6.6-mile) hike to Mitchell Lake and then two Blue Lakes, save it for later in the season when the snow melts. (And be sure to reserve timed-entry tickets ahead of time online at

Herman Gulch – Silver Plume

Part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, this 6-mile stretch is about an hour’s drive from Denver with wildflower meadows that are just starting to pop. Plan for a climb at the beginning and end of the hike with some leveling in between and, finally at the top, a windswept Herman Lake.

Mount Goliath – Idaho Springs

Visitors to this area in the Arapaho National Forest can enjoy the highest cultivated garden in the United States, overseen by the Denver Botanic Gardens and the U.S. Forest Service. Here, there are more than 400 species of alpine plants to discover. Start out at the cultivated gardens and the Dos Chappell Nature Center, then hike about 3 miles roundtrip on the M. Walter Pesman Trail to take in the bristlecone pines above and colorful cushion plants below. (Reserve timed-entry tickets ahead of time online.)

Required wildflower reading

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and Denver Botanic Gardens are working together behind the scenes to collect seeds and preserve alpine plant species for generations to come. For a view into their work — with the added bonus of beautiful wildflower photos — check out these books:

  • In 2018, the Denver Botanic Gardens released “Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountain Region, a field guide to some 1,200 species, including vines and shrubs, with matching photos and corresponding maps. The book is organized by flower color, petal arrangement and leaf type for easy identification on the trail. ($27.95;
  • And this month, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens releases its coffee table book, “On the Roof of the Rocky Mountains, which sheds light on the alpine ecosystem through the story of North America’s highest botanic garden and some 3,000 high-altitude plant species growing within. ($45;

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