Colorado wildflowers are one of nature’s most breathtaking treasures, with the Rocky Mountains offering a stunning showcase of vibrant blooms during the summer months. From delicate alpine flowers to robust garden favorites, there’s no shortage of colorful blooms to discover throughout the state. In this blog post, we’ve gathered 19 of the most stunning Colorado wildflowers you can find on your next hike through the Rockies. With each flower’s unique personality, their vibrant colors, and intricate designs, it’s an experience everyone can enjoy while connecting with the natural beauty of the area. Join us on this journey as we explore the fantastical world of Colorado wildflowers, and discover some of the most beautiful hidden treasures in the Rocky Mountains.
Table of Contents
1. Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea), also known as Rocky Mountain Columbine
- Columbine has large, delicate, star-shaped flowers in shades of blue and white. The flowers have long, hollow spurs that contain nectar.
- This state flower blooms from late spring to early summer.
- Columbines are found in aspen and spruce-fir forests and alpine meadows at 7,000-10,000 feet elevation throughout Colorado.
- Look for the flowers’ unique shape with their backward-facing spurs.
- Fun fact: The Colorado blue columbine is the state flower of Colorado.
2. Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)
- Fireweed displays tall, erect spikes of pink to purple flowers with a feathery appearance.
- Fireweed typically blooms from late spring through early fall.
- It is found in disturbed areas, such as after a fire or avalanche, from the foothills to the alpine region.
- Look for fireweed in areas that have recently experienced a natural disturbance.
- Fun fact: Fireweed gets its name from its ability to quickly colonize areas burned by fire.
3. Paintbrush (Castilleja spp.), also known as Indian Paintbrush
- These are recognized by their bright red, orange, or pink bracts that look like paintbrush strokes.
- These Colorado wildflowers bloom from late spring to early summer.
- Indian paintbrush is found in a variety of habitats from low to high elevation.
- These flowers are often seen growing alongside other plants as they are semi-parasitic.
- Fun fact: Some species of paintbrush are edible and were consumed by Native American tribes.
4. Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens), also known as Prairie Crocus
- These are bell-shaped purple or blue flowers covered in fine, silky hairs.
- The Pasqueflower is one of the first to bloom in the spring.
- It grows in open, dry grasslands, sagebrush steppe, and open montane forests.
- Look for Pasqueflower in open, sunny areas where the snow melts first.
- Fun fact: The name ‘Pasque’ refers to Easter (Passover) as the flower blooms around that period.
5. Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum), also known as Wolfsbane
- Monkshood has dark blue to purple hood-shaped flowers.
- These Colorado wildflowers bloom from mid-summer to early fall.
- Monkshood prefers moist, shaded areas in the subalpine and alpine zones.
- It’s often found near streams, so look near water.
- Fun fact: Monkshood is highly toxic and was used to poison wolves, hence the name “wolfsbane.”
6. Alpine Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis alpestris)
- These flowers are small and blue with a yellow center.
- They bloom in the early to mid-summer.
- Alpine Forget-Me-Nots grow in alpine tundra above 11,000 feet.
- Look for these flowers in the highest, rocky regions.
- Fun fact: These flowers are the symbol of the Alpine Club of Canada because they grow in the harshest alpine environments.
7. Mariposa Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii)
- This flower displays three large white or pink petals with a purplish spot near the base.
- Mariposa Lilies bloom in early to mid-summer.
- They can be found in montane and subalpine meadows and open woodlands.
- Look for Mariposa Lilies in sunny, open areas.
- Fun fact: The name ‘Mariposa’ is Spanish for butterfly, referring to the butterfly-like appearance of the flower.
8. Rocky Mountain Iris (Iris missouriensis)
- The Rocky Mountain Iris has large pale purples to dark blue flowers.
- They bloom in late spring to early summer.
- These flowers are found in wet meadows and along streams from foothills to montane regions.
- Look for these in marshy, waterlogged areas.
- Fun fact: The root of these medicinal Colorado wildflowers was used by several Native American tribes to treat toothache.
9. Wild Rose (Rosa woodsii)
- This shrub has light to dark pink flowers with a yellow center.
- Wild roses bloom in early to mid-summer.
- They grow in a variety of habitats from foothills to montane regions.
- Look for Wild Roses along trails and clearings.
- Fun fact: Wild Roses produce rose hips in the fall, which are rich in Vitamin C.
10. Penstemon (Penstemon spp.), also known as Beardtongue
- These have clusters of tubular-shaped flowers in various colors, most commonly purple and blue.
- Penstemons bloom from late spring to early summer.
- They are found throughout the Rocky Mountains in various habitats.
- Look for Penstemons on dry, sunny slopes.
- Fun fact: The name ‘Beardtongue’ comes from the hairy stamen that sticks out of the flower, resembling a tongue.
11. Mountain Bluebell (Mertensia ciliata)
- Mountain Bluebells feature clusters of nodding blue bell-shaped flowers.
- They bloom from late spring to early summer.
- They grow in moist, shaded areas in subalpine to alpine zones.
- Look for Mountain Bluebells near streams and in damp forests.
- Fun fact: Mountain Bluebell is also known as ‘Lungwort,’ due to the lung-shaped spots on its leaves.
12. Fairy Slipper (Calypso bulbosa), also known as Calypso Orchid
- This orchid has a single pink to purple slipper-shaped flower.
- It blooms in the spring.
- It grows in moist, shady forests from the foothills to subalpine regions.
- Look for Fairy Slippers in the understory of coniferous forests.
- Fun fact: The plant is named after the Greek nymph Calypso, who was said to have magical powers of seduction.
13. Western Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)
- These have upright, trumpet-shaped orange flowers with dark spots.
- They bloom in the summer.
- Western Wood Lilies grow in dry meadows and open forests from the foothills to subalpine zones.
- Look for these lilies in sunny clearings.
- Fun fact: The bulbs of Western Wood Lilies were used as a food source by Native American tribes.
14. Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)
- This orchid has a spike of pink to red flowers with a lip marked with deep red spots.
- It blooms in late spring to early summer.
- It grows in coniferous forests from foothills to subalpine zones.
- Look for Spotted Coralroot on the forest floor, as it is a saprophytic orchid, gaining nutrients from dead organic matter.
- Fun fact: Since it doesn’t photosynthesize, these Colorado wildflowers grow in very dark environments where other flowers can’t.
15. Elephant's Head (Pedicularis groenlandica)
- Elephant’s Head features a spike of pink to purple flowers that resemble the head of an elephant with its trunk extended.
- They bloom from late spring to early fall.
- They grow in wet meadows and along streams from montane to alpine zones.
- Look for Elephant’s Head in damp areas with other moisture-loving plants.
- Fun fact: Elephant’s Head is semi-parasitic, it gets some of its nutrients by tapping into the root systems of other plants.
16. Old Man of the Mountain (Helianthus nuttallii ssp. parishii)
- This variety of sunflower has large, yellow, daisy-like flowers with a brown center, distinguished by its shaggy, grey-green leaves, giving it an ‘old man’ appearance.
- Old Man of the Mountain blooms in late summer to early fall.
- It is typically found in alpine meadows and rocky slopes above the tree line, making its home at high elevations.
- Look for Old Man of the Mountain in areas with full sun exposure and well-drained soil.
- Fun fact: Despite the harsh conditions of its alpine habitat, this sunflower thrives and brings a splash of sunshine to the mountaintops.
17. Parry's Bellflower (Campanula parryi)
- These bellflowers have clusters of nodding blue bell-shaped flowers.
- They bloom in mid to late summer.
- They grow in alpine meadows above 11,000 feet.
- Look for Parry’s Bellflower in high altitude areas with short growing seasons.
- Fun fact: The plant is named after Charles Parry, a well-known 19th-century botanist who specialized in Western North American plants, and is the namesake of Parry Peak, a Colorado thirteener.
18. Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum)
- These common Colorado wildflowers have clusters of bright orange, four-petaled flowers.
- Western Wallflowers bloom from spring to early summer.
- They are found in a variety of habitats from low to high elevation.
- Look for Western Wallflowers on dry, sunny slopes.
- Fun fact: Western Wallflowers attract butterflies and are often used in butterfly gardens.
19. Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
- These Colorado wildflowers are pink to purple and nodding, followed by feathery, plume-like seed heads that resemble smoke or cotton candy.
- Prairie Smoke blooms in late spring.
- They grow in dry meadows and open forests from the foothills to subalpine zones.
- Look for Prairie Smoke’s distinctive fluffy seed heads in mid to late summer.
- Fun fact: Prairie Smoke is also known as ‘Old Man’s Whiskers’ due to its feathery seed heads.
Leave No Trace: Don't Pick the Flowers
Colorado is home to a vast variety of wildflowers that add vibrant colors to the state’s meadows, forests, and alpine landscapes. Although it may be tempting to pick them for their beauty and fragrance, doing so can harm our fragile ecosystem. Wildflowers play a crucial role in supporting biodiversity, providing food and habitat for animals, and aiding in soil health. Moreover, picking wildflowers can lead to their extinction. Instead, we should admire them from a distance and let them fulfill their purpose in nature’s cycle.
Here are some Leave No Trace tips to help preserve Colorado’s wildflowers and natural environments:
- Stick to designated trails, and avoid stepping off the path to avoid crushing or damaging wildflowers and their habitat.
- Avoid picking flowers or disturbing their growth by leaving them undisturbed to keep the ecosystem healthy.
- Leave nature as you found it by carrying out your trash and disposing of it in the proper place.
- Respect wildlife by not feeding or interfering with them. Keep a safe distance and allow them to be a part of their natural habitats.
- Minimize your impact by following Leave No Trace principles and adopting the philosophy of taking nothing but photographs and leaving nothing but footprints.
By following these simple guidelines, we can help preserve Colorado’s wildflowers and natural landscape for future generations to enjoy.
Where to Go to Find Wildflowers?
Colorado wildflowers aren’t difficult to find in July or early August. Just head to any alpine area near streams or creeks and you should find plenty of them. Here are some tried-and-true places and hikes where wildflower blooms are everywhere.
1. Crested Butte
Often referred to as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado”, Crested Butte is a must-visit.
Drive: Take the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, a breathtaking journey that will lead you past expansive fields of wildflowers in spring and summer. Begin in Crested Butte and follow Colorado State Highway 135 towards Gunnison. Turn west onto US Highway 50 before heading north on Colorado State Highway 133 towards Hotchkiss and Paonia, finally looping back to Crested Butte via Kebler Pass.
Hike: The Snodgrass Trail is a moderate 6-mile round-trip hike that offers spectacular views of Mt. Crested Butte and Gothic Mountain, along with expansive meadows of wildflowers in the summer.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
This national park is known for its wide array of wildflowers that cover its alpine meadows and forest floors from late spring through summer.
Drive: The Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through road in Colorado, offers many overlooks to appreciate the landscape. Along the route, you’ll see wildflowers such as Indian Paintbrush, Columbines, and Bluebells. Remember to stop at the Alpine Visitor Center for panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and wildflower fields.
Hike: The Emerald Lake Trail, which begins at the Bear Lake trailhead, is a relatively easy 3.6-mile round-trip trail that offers views of three beautiful mountain lakes, each surrounded by wildflowers in the summer months.
3. Mount Evans
Home to the highest paved road in North America, Mount Evans is also a hotspot for a variety of wildflowers, including Alpine Forget-me-nots, Moss Campion, and the Colorado state flower, the Rocky Mountain Columbine.
Drive: The Mount Evans Scenic Byway ascends from Idaho Springs. As you climb higher, the scenery transitions from forests to subalpine meadows filled with wildflowers, and finally to alpine tundra above the treeline.
Hike: The Chicago Lakes trail is a challenging 9-mile round trip hike that offers stunning lake views and abundant wildflowers along the path.
4. San Juan Mountains
Situated in southwestern Colorado, the San Juan Mountains offer some of the state’s most spectacular wildflower displays.
Drive: The San Juan Skyway, a designated All-American Road, takes you through the heart of these mountains. Starting in Durango, follow the highway through Silverton and Ouray, then south through Ridgway, and finally west back to Durango.
Hike: Ice Lakes Basin is a strenuous 8.4-mile round-trip trail that rewards hikers with turquoise alpine lakes and breathtaking wildflower meadows.
No matter where your journey takes you, remember to tread lightly, follow the Leave No Trace principles, and ensure these stunning locations remain preserved for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
The Last Word on Colorado Wildflowers
In conclusion, Colorado wildflowers showcase the beauty and diversity of the state’s natural landscape. From the vibrant columbine to the delicate fireweed, there are endless varieties of wildflowers to discover and appreciate. Exploring Colorado’s wildflower fields offers the opportunity to connect with nature and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the environment. It is important to remember to be respectful of the delicate ecosystem and follow Leave No Trace principles while enjoying these natural wonders. We hope this guide has inspired you to plan your own wildflower excursions and explore the stunning wildflower displays that can be found throughout Colorado.
Colorado Wildflowers Frequently Asked Questions
A: The wildflower season in Colorado usually begins in April and May with the arrival of early bloomers in the lower elevations. As we move into June and July, the wildflowers start to bloom at higher elevations. The peak of the wildflower season is typically around mid-July to August, depending on the weather conditions and elevation.
A: Yes, many species of Colorado wildflowers are perennials, meaning they grow and bloom over the spring and summer, die back every winter, and then return in the spring from their rootstock. Examples of perennial wildflowers in Colorado include the Columbine, Wild Iris, and the Prairie Coneflower. However, there are also annual and biennial wildflowers found in the state.
A: The state wildflower of Colorado is the Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea). It was designated the official state flower of Colorado in 1899. The white and lavender Columbine is known for its beautiful, distinct shape and sweet fragrance.
A: The Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata) is a Colorado wildflower that resembles a sunflower. It’s a perennial with large, vibrant yellow and red blooms. However, actual sunflower species such as the Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Prairie Sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris) also grow in Colorado.
A: The lifespan of wildflowers in Colorado depends on the species and the weather conditions. However, individual blooms typically last for a few weeks. The entire wildflower season, from the early bloomers in the lower elevations to the late bloomers in the higher elevations, spans from spring through late summer.
A: The best month for viewing wildflowers in Colorado is typically July. This is when the majority of wildflowers are in bloom, especially in higher elevations. However, June through August also provides excellent opportunities for wildflower viewing.
A: Crested Butte is often referred to as the “Wildflower Capital” of Colorado. Every year in July, it hosts the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, which features wildflower photography classes, guided wildflower hiking tours, and more.
A: Yes, in many cases, it is illegal to pick wildflowers in Colorado, especially on public lands like national parks and forests. The rules can vary depending on the location and the species of the flower, so it’s always a good idea to leave the wildflowers where they are and enjoy their beauty in their natural setting.
A: There are several reasons why you should not pick wildflowers. First, wildflowers are part of the ecosystem and provide food and habitat for many species, including insects, birds, and small mammals. Secondly, some species of wildflowers are rare or endangered and picking them can contribute to their decline. Also, once a flower is picked, it can no longer produce seeds to create new plants. Lastly, wildflowers are a shared resource that should be left for everyone to enjoy. By not picking them, you are helping to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy them too.