Full Bloom: Colorado’s Best Wildflower Hikes

A fan of the wildflowers? We offer up our four favorite Colorado wildflower hikes to get you out in the midst of it all.

by Chris Kassar

While the rest of the West is in drought, Colorado has seen a lot of rain this summer. We have those wet days to thank for the fact that the hills are now bursting with a vibrant palette of so many colors. That’s right, on of the best wildflower seasons in years is in full effect, so don’t waste another second. Get out there and frolic in the colorful blooms on some of our favorite hikes.

Silverton: Ice Lakes

This quintessential Colorado hike has it all: Wander through tranquil meadows, walk past waterfalls, discover scores of wildflowers and absorb spectacular vistas on your way to an extraordinary turquoise pool perched in a cirque surrounded by rugged cliffs. The trail begins in the trees, breaks out of them to pass through the lush Lower Ice Lakes Basin and climbs higher to reach the impressive upper basin. Though this route is relentlessly uphill, its popularity with visitors and locals alike proves that the rewards are absolutely worth the effort.

Distance: 8.6 miles out-and-back

Difficulty: Strenuous due to distance, altitude, elevation gain and many steep sections

Ice_Lakes (1)

Flower Highlights: towering Jacob’s ladder, monkshood, aspen sunflower, monument plant, Colorado columbine, Whipple’s penstemon, elephant heads, corn lily, fringed gentian, old man of the mountains, sky pilot, Parry primrose

Finding the Trailhead: From Silverton, follow U.S. 550 north for 1.9 miles. Turn west (left) onto County Road 7 (also called FR 585 and South Mineral Creek Road). Follow this good gravel road for 4.5 miles until you reach the South Mineral Campground on the south side (left) of the road. Park across from the campground in the large lot on the north side of the road (right).

Breckenridge: Monte Cristo Gulch 

Walk above the trees on a delightful hike through this high alpine wonderland rich with mining history. Though short, this trail climbs steeply in spots as it meanders along a rushing creek rife with colorful blooms to reach a verdant basin enveloped by jagged cliffs. Perched at the end of the trail, a shimmering tarn and cascading falls await your arrival. Expect sublime views, multiple easy stream crossings and the opportunity to see a range of wildlife from mountain goats to marmots.

Distance: 2.5-miles out-and-back

Difficulty: Short, but moderate due to altitude, a few steep sections and rocky terrain

Flower Highlights: Colorado columbine, mountain harebell, silky phacelia, moss campion, rosy, scarlet and western yellow paintbrush, elephant heads, narcissus anemone, queen’s crown, alpine avens, star gentian

Finding the Trailhead: From the last traffic light in Breckenridge (Boreas Road), drive south on Highway 9 for 7.6 miles. Turn west (right) onto Blue Lakes Road (FR 850). Go straight at the fork and follow the road for 2.2 miles to the parking area just below the dam. GPS: N39° 23.208′ W106° 05.993′

Aspen/Independence Pass: Linkins Lake

Just below Independence Pass (12,095 feet), this moderately challenging, but short and easily accessible trail travels through a subalpine paradise replete with meadows and never-ending vistas, to reach a high alpine lake (12,008 feet) with decent fishing. Though the brief, steep climb will raise your heart rate, the Linkins Lake trail (#1979) begins high enough that you don’t have to make the type of long climb usually needed to reach this sort of remarkable terrain. Once you arrive at the glacial cirque sheltering the glimmering water, it becomes clear that every step was well worth the effort.

Distance: 1.4-miles out-and-back

Difficulty: Short, but moderate due to altitude and steep sections

Flower Highlights: glacial daisy, death camas, northern, Western yellow and rosy paintbrush, Parry primrose, yellow monkeyflower, fireweed, fringed gentian, star gentian

Finding the Trailhead: From Aspen, drive 18.5 miles east on Highway 82. Just past mile marker 59, reach the last switchback before Independence Pass. The trailhead, which is the jumping off point for Linkins Lake and the Lost Man Trail, is on the left (north) side of the highway at this hairpin turn. GPS: N39° 07.480’/W106° 34.908′

American Basin: Lake City

Don’t expect to make good time on this stunning, short hike through alpine utopia. The sea of dazzling flowers set against the backdrop of craggy, vertical cliffs will surely compel you to stop often so you can snap photos of the impressive scene and enjoy every new blossom close-up. A stroll up this glacially carved valley rewards hikers with a rushing creek, a raging waterfall, breathtaking views and one of the most brilliant wildflower displays in the state.

Distance: 2.1-mile out and back

Difficulty: Easy due to smooth terrain and moderate elevation gain

Flower Highlights: tall larkspur, mountain bluebells, annual sunflower, elephant heads, Coulter’s daisy, alpine avens, American bistort, monkshood and rosy, Western yellow and northern paintbrush

Finding the Trailhead: From Lake City, drive south on Highway 149 south for 2.5 miles. Turn right (south) onto County Road 30 at the Lake San Cristobal sign. Follow this paved road as it curves around the lake for another 4 miles where it turns to dirt. Follow the dirt road for another 16.3 miles. Bear left at a fork in the road marked by a sign that reads “Cinnamon Pass/American Basin.” Four-wheel drive and high clearance is recommended.

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