From the tips of the fingers to the end of the nose, Colorado’s wildflower trails offer epic opportunities to wow the senses. Pops of color peep up from the grass, waving farewell to snowy seasons past. Indeed, it lures hikers out into the blooming Rocky Mountain landscapes.
At this very moment, outdoor lovers are flocking to the sights and scents of the mountains in full color. More than 5,000 varieties of Alpine flowers have painted the mountain; critics say this year may be the best bloom in decades!
But, with hundreds or maybe thousands of hiking trails scattered throughout the Rocky Mountain state, where is one to begin in search of the best wildflower day hikes? Here’s a list of six hiking trails (suitable for most ability levels) in Chaffee County.
Alpine Tunnel Wildflower Trails
Discover a historic trail that runs along the former Pacific Railway. A high altitude, but low difficulty hike, known for its easy access to the upper-level wildflower bloom. The Alpine Tunnel Trail is equally revered for wildlife sightings, scenic vistas, and an abundance of late summer wildflowers. This is the place to head for those hoping to rub shoulders with wild deer and moose, or to savor the sights of blue lupines, columbine, purple sage, Alpine sunflowers, and white flowering buckwheat.
A trip to Chaffee County wouldn’t be complete without stepping into the wonders of the San Isabel National Forest. Just a hop away, the Rainbow Trail is an obvious choice to see the rainbow effect these wildflower trails cast. Although moderate hiking abilities are necessary, the trail can also be enjoyed by horseback. The trail winds more than 29 miles climbing some 6,000 feet in elevation. However, it’s an ideal place to spot an abundance of birds and almost all of the most notable Rocky Mountain summer flowers.
Lost Lake Trail
The journey towards the Cottonwood Pass harbors an easy, lesser-known hike through forests, creeks, and meadows on the way to Alpine lake. The Lost Lake trail is the best option for those seeking a serene experience devoid of wildflower festival-goers. Although high altitude, (resting above 11,000 feet), the climb doesn’t rise much and completes after 2.5 miles. This hike offers the best chance of capturing vibrant wildflowers trails in the same shot as Pike’s Peak. At this level, the blooms are most prominent in July and August. These wildflower trails offer the highly sought after Alpine sunflowers, Colorado columbine, and lupine.
Poplar Gulch Trail
For a truly scenic hike, opt for the challenging 11.6-mile trek up the Green Timber Gulch Trail. It rises well over 4,000 feet in elevation through the Swatch Mountain Range. The varied route is verdant with Alpine meadows tucked between waterfalls and blue spruce forests. Due to varied elevations and landscapes, a wide range of flowers can be noted within including the red Indian paintbrush, mule’s ear, purple fairy slipper orchids, blue lupines, yellow lilies, wild blue flax, and sunflowers.
North Cottonwood Creek Trail
Although the farthest, it is worth it to reach the trailhead for North Cottonwood Creek. It is one of the most popular wildflower trails in Chaffee County. Inside the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, the loop is just over 3 miles in length and is a prime spot to catch the big summer bloom each July. The low-lying creek areas provide an ideal place for wildflowers that prefer low-altitude, lush Alpine climates like the Colorado columbine, primrose, Aspen daisies, and forget-me-nots, to name a few.
Ptarmigan Lake Trail
The top pick for those who’d like to sneak in a little fishing time while Rocky Mountain climbing and petal peeping, Ptarmigan Lake is one of the most recommended trail sites for wildflower viewing in the area. The 6-mile round trip trek wades through wet and partially snow-covered trails, yet maintains a moderate ability level suitable for families with young children. Here is where the Alpine meadows give way to an array of wild blooming grass, Aspen daisies and lilies, fireweed, bluebells, and pasque flowers.