It may be well known for its rugged peaks and winter ski slopes, but visit Colorado in the summer and you’ll find a vibrant display of wildflowers.
Crested Butte earns its nickname “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” because it’s by far the best place to see wildflowers in the state. Nestled in the Elk Mountains in western Colorado, Crested Butte isn’t easy to get to, but it’s worth the visit. Fertile soil combines with favorable weather conditions to create fertile ground for several varieties of wildflowers, all of which light up vibrant colors. Your most notable wildflower find here will be the columbine, which is Colorado’s official state flower.
Flower lovers report seeing some 1,500 different species of wildflowers in and around Crested Butte. Flowers begin to appear around late June and early July, but may bloom earlier if the area experiences below average winter snowfall.
Another reason Crested Butte is a wildflower mecca is due to the abundance of public land surrounding the town. Wildflowers are abundant along the area’s vast array of trails, both for hiking and mountain biking, and ranging from beginner to advanced.
“One of the trails that starts to see wildflowers earliest in the season is Lupine Trail, [which] runs along a south-facing slope just above the town,” said Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association marketing director Andrew Sandstrom.
The city has a dedicated page on its website to track current wildflower viewing conditions. You can also find current trail conditions on various websites, including this one organized by the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association.
Rocky Mountain National Park
For wildflower viewing which is a little easier to get to, go to Rocky Mountain National Park, about an hour and a half northwest of Denver. Drop by the Visitor Center for a wildflower guide that will help you identify the park’s hundreds of flower species.
There are more than 50 hiking trails in the park, varying in difficulty and length.
The moderately rated Ouzel Falls the trail is 5 miles round trip and is lined with colorful wildflowers. There is a much shorter hike near the Alpine Visitor Center featuring alpine wildflowers like moss campion and alpine forget-me-nots. But beware of this trail! It may be less than a mile round trip, but it sits at nearly 12,000 feet, which makes it harder than you think!
If you prefer not to hike, there are two scenic routes through the park which both offer beautiful wildflower scenery.
Alpine Loop Scenic Route
This road is not for the tired. Accessible only by 4×4, the 63-mile Alpine Loop Scenic Route is robust, narrow and resistant. But, if you’re brave enough (and have a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle), you’ll be rewarded with unspoiled nature and views. The road is only accessible for a short time, usually from June to September. The rest of the year it is snowy and not maintained.
Once used by miners, the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway connects the southwestern Colorado towns of Silverton, Lake City and Ouray through the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains. One of its two 12,000 foot passes (Engineer Pass) is home to a vast field of wildflowers. Allow at least 7 hours to travel the route; longer if you plan to hike in search of elusive wildflowers along the way.
After this thrilling ride, take some time to relax in the small mountain town of Ouray. Or if you want a more sedate drive, check out our best scenic drives in Colorado.