Sojourner Afield

The 5 Best High Rockies Wildflower Hikes

The author of the new guidebook 'Best Wildflower Hikes in Colorado' shares her favorite trails for spotting the summer colors.

By Chris Kassar July 26, 2017 Published in the Midsummer/Fall 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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1. Linkins Lake
Distance: 1.2 miles round-trip
Flower finder: glacial daisy; elephant heads; death camas; northern, western yellow, and rosy paintbrush; Parry’s primrose; yellow monkeyflower; fireweed; fringed and star gentian

With easy roadside access just below the west side of Independence Pass (look for the parking pullout at the first big switchback), this moderately difficult but short trail travels through a subalpine paradise—awash with meadows and seemingly never-ending vistas—to the lake, at just over 12,000 feet. Though the brief, steep climb ( 500 vertical feet) will get your heart pumping, the trail begins high enough to avoid the elevation gain usually needed to reach high-alpine terrain. Once you arrive at the glacial cirque sheltering the small lake, you’ll agree that it was worth the effort. 

2. Frenchman Creek
Distance: up to 11 miles round-trip
Flower finder: silky phacelia, one-sided penstemon, rosy paintbrush, alpine avens, alpine sunflower (Old Man of the Mountain), sky pilot, wild strawberry, green-flowered wintergreen, twinflower, mountain bluebells

This trail in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness outside Buena Vista eventually climbs Mount Harvard, Colorado’s third-highest 14er, but you don’t have to go as far as the summit to enjoy stellar views and fields full of wildflowers. The high-alpine basin between Harvard and neighboring 14er Columbia is a worthy goal. You may even spot some mountain goats, too.

3. Grizzly Lake Trail
Distance: 7.2 miles round-trip
Flower finder: Colorado columbine; sky pilot; alpine fireweed; elephant heads; marsh marigold; mountain bluebells; rosy, western yellow, and scarlet paintbrush; mountain harebell

Expect to have your mind blown on this moderate climb teeming with wildflowers and offering a variety of scenery typically reserved for much longer journeys. Starting from a trailhead some 6 miles up Lincoln Creek Road off Highway 82, the route begins amid evergreens, breaks through tree line to wander under a big sky and the toothy edges of the Continental Divide, and ends at a shimmering mountain lake. The final climb to the lake is rugged, but the turquoise waters of Grizzly Lake, backed by 13,988-foot Grizzly Peak, are ample reward. 

4. Midway Pass
Distance: 8 miles round-trip
Flower finder: sky pilot, shrubby cinquefoil, Parry’s primrose, marsh marigold, globeflower, alpine forget-me-not, queen’s crown, alpine avens, western yellow paintbrush 

From the lower Lost Man trailhead off Highway 82, this hike to an 11,840-foot saddle climbs—at times, steeply—through dense forest, meanders through blossom-filled meadows, and traverses through tundra where tiny bits of color rise from the rocks. During your exploration of this little piece of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, take a break by a peaceful trailside pond about three-quarters of the way to the pass, perfect for absorbing unfettered views of Independence Mountain ( 12,703 feet) and Twining Peak ( 13,711 feet). You can even glimpse distant, iconic summits like the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak.

5. Timberline Lake Trail
Distance: 4.4 miles round-trip
Flower finder: yarrow, alpine fireweed, arrowleaf groundsel, shrubby cinquefoil, lupine, Colorado columbine, alpine avens, mountain bluebells, scarlet paintbrush

This easy-to-moderate route that starts by Leadville’s Turquoise Lake parallels Lake Fork Creek for its majority while traveling through the Holy Cross Wilderness. It includes a marshy section with a diversity of blooms, a couple of creek crossings for added fun, and a few steep spots—but they’re so short that you’ll barely notice them. The payoff? The lake perched at 10,855 feet, surrounded by verdant pine forest and craggy cliffs.

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Best Wildflower Hikes Colorado includes detailed hike descriptions, maps, and color photos for some 100 of the state’s most scenic wildflower hikes. Encompassing state and national parks, forests, monuments and wilderness areas, this guide includes history, local trivia, and GPS coordinates, leading hikers to remote corners to view spectacular wildflowers. Available locally at Explore Booksellers
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