For some of the best mountain wildflower viewing and education, look no further than Crested Butte, Colorado. While the official Wildflower Festival has now passed, the organization continues to offer hikes and events throughout the summer. I love the wildflowers the most as we transition from July into August. The flowers will soon be shoulder-high and vibrant against the lush green carpet of the mountain sides.
Down South Desert
Because the Gunnison-Crested Butte valley varies from high desert hills to high alpine peaks, the wildflower variety is plentiful and surprising. Among the driest soils in the south end of the valley, cactus flowers bloom alongside the sage while red paintbrush, yellow sunflowers and purple penstemon blanket the rolling hills. On occasion, an area may erupt in the delicate white mariposa lilies; my personal favorites.
Up North Mountains
Up north in the higher elevations of Crested Butte’s mountains, the ground becomes a patchwork of bright colored, dense flower fields. The purple lupine, larkspur, monkshood and penstemon commonly mix with various sunflowers, paintbrushes, roses and geraniums. At higher elevations the cotton swab-topped bistort, delicate pink elephant head and thick stands of Case’s fitweed add to the unique high alpine varieties of Colorado’s wildflowers.
Where to Go
Luckily, flowers abound everywhere so you don’t have to possess super-human lungs to be stunned by the color show. However, if you’re up for a more rigorous hike, you’ll be rewarded with a huge variety of flowers up high. Some of my favorite easy viewing spots, include a simple drive out to Gothic or along Kebler Pass Road. Mellow hikes such as the Three Lakes Loop or Brush Creek Road also yield some great viewing. If visiting in late June/early July, try to hit the peak sunflower bloom on the Farris Creek/Walrod trail. It’s a lung buster but so worth the effort. My absolute favorites for the peak color explosion include West Maroon Trail / Frigidaire Pass or Trail 403 which begins at 11,000 feet. Both trails provide high “returns” for your high effort! And for the high desert wildflower gems, visit the town of Almont, just 20 minutes south of Crested Butte. The hills in the Almont triangle and behind Three Rivers Resort yield acres of wildflowers thriving in dry soil.
For more information on wildflowers, tours and events, visit: https://www.crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com/. For lodging and a variety of other mountain activities, visit Three Rivers Resort in Almont at the junction of the Taylor, East and Gunnison Rivers: https://3riversresort.com/, offering cabins, rafting, fly fishing, BBQ and a general store.
Jennifer Bickford is an avid hiker and wildflower enthusiast. She lives in Almont and manages Three Rivers Resort.