wildflowers are all over the mountains right now, but some places in Summit County are better than others if you want to get your flower fix this season. Mid- to late July is usually the best time to see blooms in all of the High Country areas.
In forests, look for wild roses, yellow arnica and fairy slipper orchids, and in wet areas find tall chiming bells and elephant heads. Head to meadows for penstemon, sneezeweed, and our state flower, the columbine. In alpine areas, don’t miss the queen’s crown, the gentian and the bright and beautiful bundles of forget-me-nots.
Nature photographer John Fielder teaches photography in Summit County and beyond and operates a gallery in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe. Fielder’s new book, “Wildflowers of Colorado,” contains 100 of his favorite Colorado wildflower photographs. In the book, Fielder describes how to find and photograph wildflowers in northern, central and southern Colorado. It is available at Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco.
In early summer, Fielder said to visit the numerous side roads of Colorado State Highway 9 (CO-9) between Silverthorne and Kremmling — including Ute Pass Road — to see fields of purple lupine and yellow arrowleaf balsamroot.
Throughout the summer, Fielder said the Acorn Creek Trail off the Ute Park Road, 10 miles north of Silverthorne, guides hikers into the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness, and the meadows are filled with flowers for the entire season.
Go wildflower hunting while the plants are hitting their peak, as the weather will cool down and the blooms will disappear as quickly as they appeared.
“As summer turns to fall, watch for the brilliant pink fireweed,” said Leigh Girvin in a blog for the Breckenridge Tourism Office. “According to some old wives, when the fireweed blooms to the top of its stalk, winter’s snows are six weeks away. Invariably, I have found this to be true.”
Vanessa Agee, director of marketing and communications at the town of Frisco, recommends heading to the hill on the Frisco Peninsula. She said it has incredible wild lupines, which can be seen and approached from the day-use Dickey trailhead on the peninsula.
To get there from I-70, take exit 203 and travel south on CO-9 through Frisco approximately 2.9 miles. At the sign that reads “THANKS FOR VISITING FRISCO,” use the left turn lane to access the trailhead. Proceed 0.1 miles.
“The Rainbow Lake trailhead at the intersection of the bike path and 7th Avenue in Frisco brings you onto a winding trail with the most beautiful columbine ‘grove’ I have ever seen,” Agee said.
She added that this hike is a great one for kids, too. Take the trail just to the right of the Summit County Church of Christ in Frisco and follow the trail to the left uphill to Rainbow Lake.
CARTER MUSEUM AND CARTER PARK
The grounds of this museum in downtown Breckenridge at Ridge Street and Wellington Road are a great place to effortlessly see wildflowers like Penstemons. At the south end of High Street, head into Carter Park and take a walk up the hill to see wildflowers and nice views.
This two-mile loop gives walkers a chance to enjoy the mountain lake and a scenic waterfall, as well as a plethora of arnica, columbine and purple larkspur.
“My favorite Summit County wildflower hike circumnavigates Lower Cataract Lake for two miles on the edge of the Eagles Nest Wilderness,” Fielder said. “Wildflower varieties are numerous beginning end of June, and one of the thickest fields of columbine I know grows early July on the south side of the lake.”
Drive 16 miles north of Silverthorne on CO-9. Turn left on the Heeney Road, and travel 5.3 miles to Colorado Route 1725 (Cataract Creek Road). Turn left, and drive 2.3 miles to a fork past the campground. Go left and park. There’s a $5 use fee.
This pass sits at about 11,500 feet in elevation at the Continental Divide. Park at the top and walk on the trail to see all kinds of high alpine wildflowers.
Head south from Frisco on CO-9 for approximately 18.6 miles until you hit the top of Hoosier Pass and park at the Continental Divide sign on the right.
This out-and-back trail features more and more wildflowers as the grade gradually increases toward Quandary Falls.
From Breckenridge head south on CO-9 for 7.6 miles to Blue Lakes Drive (#850). Turn right onto Blue Lakes drive and continue for about 100 yards to McCullough Gulch Rd.(#851). Turn right and continue for 2.2 miles, staying left at the y-junction, to the parking area at the trailhead.
BOREAS PASS ROAD
This dirt road is passable with most vehicles, and takes visitors up to the alpine zone to see meadows of the bright yellow alpine sunflower and other high-altitude varieties, along with views of the Blue River Valley and the Tenmile Range.
Travel south on CO-9 through Frisco toward Breckenridge. At the southern town limits of Breckenridge turn left on Boreas Pass Road (County Road 10). Follow Boreas Pass Road approximately 3.5 miles to the Bakers Tank trailhead and parking lot on your left. The Bakers Tank Trailhead is the parking area for non-motorized road users.
Flower season lasts a little longer in Mayflower Gulch, where blooms are usually best in early August. Hikers will see blue gentian, Colorado tansy aster and golden paintbrush.
Head toward Copper Mountain off I-70 exit 195 for this hike near Breckenridge. Drive Highway 91 south 6.2 miles past the highway exit and turn left to park.