Colorado wildflowers offer some of the most colorful displays in nature. During the wildflower season, the lush mountain valleys and high alpine terrain of Colorado burst with life. On the whole, the landscape is stunning, but when you zoom in, it gets even more spectacular.
Identifying Colorado wildflowers has become a new pastime of mine. When you’ve got a small baby that wants to move, you learn how to slow down. So I dedicated some time to learning all about Colorado wildflowers.
As a local of nearly 15 years, I know where to find the most amazing wildflower displays in Colorado. I’ll give you the inside scoop on how to identify Colorado wildflowers and where to find them.
About this Guide to Colorado Wildflowers
Inside this expert guide to Colorado wildflowers you’ll find:
- Hot info on the best times to see Colorado wildflowers
- An in-depth look at what the most common wildflowers in Colorado look like
- Where to see the most spectacular blooms in Colorado
- Tips and tricks for wildflower viewing
- Additional Colorado travel resources
When is the Best Time to See Wildflowers in Colorado?
The wildflower season in Colorado typically starts middle-end of June and goes through mid-August yearly. Late August still shows some blooms, but most of the giant bursts of color start to fade. In the plains and desert locales, wildflowers start to bloom during the spring months.
You’ll find Colorado wildflowers in any high-alpine valley. Typically blooms appear above 9,000 feet all the way up to 13,000 feet. There are some wildflowers in Denver and in the eastern plains, but the most famous wildflowers in Colorado pop up after the snow melts in the mountains.
2023 Wildflower Season Live Updates
Just like I do for my Colorado fall hikes post – I will pop into this post and make updates as the Colorado wildflower season progresses.
This year we saw a lot of rain. And snow. It’s been EPIC to say the least. As a result, the wildflowers are a bit late this year. By about 2-3 weeks. WOWZA!
7/13 update: It’s finally time! Guenalla Pass area and the Front Range high country are starting to POP! It’s going to be an EPIC wildflower season, so get to the trails early to avoid the crowds!
The Indian Peak Wilderness, Gore Range, and Maroon Bells Wilderness still have a a lot of snow, but blooms are on the way!
Arapaho National Forest, James Peak Wilderness, Guanella Pass, Breck area, and the Sawatch are beginning to bloom!
Unlike the fall colors, wildflowers last throughout the season as different flowers bloom at different times of the year.
7/10 update: Melted-out areas have splashes of yellow and white, with the purple tundra blooms just beginning to show up.
With that being said, the white marsh marigolds are out in full force this year. We saw countless up in the Maroon Bells over the 4th of July weekend. It’s wet and these ladies love it!
Larkspur, columbine, and Bluebell are barely starting to bud as of the holiday weekend.
What are Some of the Colorado Wildflowers? A Local Field Guide to Colorado Wildflower Identification
Next time you embark on your Colorado wildflower hike, know what you’re looking at! This field guide to common Colorado wildflowers gives you an idea of what these flowers look like and how to spot them in the wild.
As the state’s flower, you’ll certainly get very family with the Blue Columbine. These amazing flowers grow all over the state (with the exception of the arid desert areas) and are commonly seen at the beginning of the wildflower season.
They have a white inner flower, yellow stamen, and a star-shaped purple/blue outer flower.
Local Tip: If you live in Denver, you can certainly plant these in your garden! We used to have them before I moved up to the mountains (the elk eat everything). Just pick the dead heads for continuous blooms throughout the summer.
Where to see them: All over Colorado, but mainly in the mountains and alpine. Commonly found in the mountains and the Front Range. They grow in a variety of conditions from next to streams to under the pines.
Although they look a bit different from their blue cousins, the Western Columbine is really a treat to see. It’s one of my faves – simply because they aren’t as common as the Blue Columbine. These red flowers have spike extensions popping up from them and almost look like a crown.
Where to see them: In alpine and sub-alpine forest regions – these babies need a lot of moisture to grow, so they tend to stick to shaded areas.
Located throughout the western US, the Indian Paintbrush surely is a fan-favorite. As one of the most stunning Colorado wildflowers, these tall flowers look like a paintbrush dipped in fresh paint. Vibraint cone-like flowers in red, orange, and yellow hues add a splash of color to sunny alpine valleys.
Local Tip: One of my favorite things about these flowers is they seem to change colors as the season wears on.
Where to see them: Large meadows from the lowland plains to the high mountains. Occasionally found in woodlands and amongst sagebrush too!
Rocky Mountain Bee Plant
These often 4-foot high flower spheres are such a fun sight throughout Colorado. Their tiny, bunched purple flowers attract a lot of bees (hence the name). They look like purple pom-poms dotting the landscape.
Where to see them: All over the alpine meadows of Colorado.
Another one of my favorites, the ombre yellow-to-red-hues on the petals of the Blanketflower burst with life. Blanketflowers are one of the few Colorado wildflowers that can bloom well into September. Their bigger stamen area seems to turn towards the sun as the day goes on.
Where to see them: Dry, sunny areas with rocky soils. You’ll see these guys throughout the foothills of Colorado.
These remind me of daisies with their iconic shape. This bright yellow flower has a yellow-orange center. The spear-like leaves give the plant its name. These common Colorado wildflowers can also be found throughout western North America. The entire plant is edible and has many uses from respiratory relief to wound disinfectant.
Where to see them: Foothills up to the mountains. They love the light, so look for them in sunny spots.
This edible plant is one of the heartiest wildflowers. The roots go dormant during the heat of the summer – which is what makes them so durable.
They produce beautiful white and purple flowers during the desert spring blooms.
Where to see them: Desert areas in shrublands, Pinion and Juniper forests.
Quite the Colorado Wildflower Classic, Bluebells can be found all over the mountains. Their bell-like shape gives them their name. They grow on stalks or in clusters. With huge green leaves, the flowers feel quite small in comparison to the plant, but they add a splash of color to any summer scene.
Local Tip: These babies often bloom first, during late spring.
Where to see them: Famously found in the 4-corners region and the San Juan mountains. You’ll often spot scores of Bluebells by streams.
Colorado sees its fair share of wildflowers and Fireweed is often the first flower to pop up post-burn. Favoring carbon-rich soils and sunny locales, this pink and purple bloom is a welcomed sight over a burn scar.
Where to see them: Throughout the state – especially in old burn areas. The San Juans, Indian Peaks, and Flat Topps Wilderness are famous for Fireweed.
Almost like bursting trumpets, these tiny red flowers pack a punch! A very pretty find and a hummingbird’s best friend, these are some spectacular blooms! You’ll know you’re on their turf if it’s hot and sunny!
Where to see them: Semi-arid climates such as large, sunny meadows. You often don’t see them in big bunches so keep your eye out!
Ah yes, another iconic Colorado wildflower. Adding some contrast to its yellow-hued neighbors, the subalpine larkspur is a tall sprig of spindly, robust, purple flowers. Some say the flowers look like dolphins jumping out of the water (I personally don’t see it). Its vibrant purple hues make for a beautiful sight.
Where to see them: These lovely flowers can be found all over sub-alpine aspen groves and in sunny alpine valleys. You’ll most commonly see them above 8,000 feet up to 1,3500 feet when the rocks take over. Crested Butte is famous for them.
Wild Bergamont or Beebalm
Okay, so you can actually find Beebalm all over the US, but the sunny and dry climate of Colorado makes these a true staple.
Where to see them: All over the state, but sunny locations are the Beebalm’s preference.
White Marsh Marigold
Often one of the first wildflowers to bloom in Colorado’s high country, the white Marsh Marigold signals summer is on the horizon. As soon as the snow melts you’ll see these clumps of white sparkingly flowers erupting from the tundra.
Where to see them: High elevations, often above 11,000 feet in the alpine tundra during the late spring.
These tall pea-shaped flowers can reach immense heights for such a tiny bloom – nearly 3 feet in some cases! You’ll often find the Silvery Lupine in a big bush. The flowers continue to grow and bloom throughout the Colorado Wildflower season.
Where to see them: Large meadows in lower elevations all the way up to the sub-alpine.
The Best Places to Find Colorado Wildflowers
Wanna know where to spot Colorado wildflowers? Here’s a look at some of the top spots across the state to spot the blooms.
Crested Butte Wildflowers
Crested Butte is commonly known as the wildflower capital of Colorado. Every year, people flock to the charming Colorado mountain town to catch the blooms. Most of the top hikes in Crested Butte feature wildflowers, but you can even spot blooms from the views around town.
Wildflowers in Southwest Colorado
Southwest Colorado is one fantastically beautiful location – and a prime spot to enjoy Colorado wildflowers. From alpine views along the Million Dollar Highway to some of Ouray’s top hikes, you won’t want to miss your chance at color displays along the western slope.
The nearly 100-mile dirt road 4×4 Alpine Loop isn’t just one of the most unique things to do in Colorado, but it’s also one of the coolest ways to spot wildflowers in Colorado. The road travels from Silverton to Lake City, passing over 2 mountain passes. You’ll get subalpine flower viewing as well as high alpine meadows that put out plenty of color.
Ice Lake Trail
One of the top alpine lakes in Colorado, the challenging Ice Lake hike takes you to the heart of the San Juan wildflower scene. But be aware, you’ll have to earn it. This trail is steep, challenging, and exceptionally crowded. Opt for a sub 5 am start if you want some solitude.
Columbine Lake Trail
This one is a bit of a sleeper and you won’t find it in many of the lists of where to view wildflowers in Colorado. This amazing trail is extremely challenging (I thought it was tougher than Ice Lake) but it travels up to a verdant alpine ridge that is littered with stunning wildflowers.
Colorado Wildflowers in Vail
Vail, Colorado is another amazing wildflower hot spot. There are several Vail hikes that will take you to stunning scenes filled with wildflowers. Most of the hikes to these high alpine valleys can be a bit challenging, so be prepared.
Wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re looking for a fun-filled way to spend the day in Rocky Mountain National Park, then you’ll want to visit during the wildflower season. As one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t exactly a wilderness secret.
However, if you aim for a sunrise hike to some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park lakes and follow up with a scenic drive of the iconic Trail Ridge Road, you can stay one step ahead of the crowds and enjoy all the seasonal blooms.
Trail Ridge Road offers an easy opportunity to get up to higher altitudes without too much effort.
Local Tip: During the summer you’ll need an advanced reservation to access Rocky Mountain National Park.
Denver has a few wildflowers, but it’s nothing compared to the alpine. You can find some displays at the Denver Botanical Gardens, but if you’re really looking for blooms, you’ll want to head west.
Don’t fret, there are several spots to view beautiful Colorado wildflowers within just an hour of Denver.
Front Range Wildflower Viewing Spots
If you’re located in the Front Range, you don’t want to miss these wildflower hot spots.
Indian Peaks Wilderness Wildflowers
You can access the Indian Peaks Wilderness as a wonderful day trip from Denver. One of the top spots for wildflower viewing are trails within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (reservation required). This area has the easiest trails within Indian Peaks.
Other amazing locations include:
Herman Gulch Trail
At just 40 minutes from Denver, Herman Gulch is one of the most accessible spots to view Colorado wildflowers. Herman Gulch does have a steep hike to reach, but all the effort is totally worth it.
Local Tip: Thanks to easy access from I-70, this trail gets BOMBARDED on the weekend. Plan for an early start (sub 6 am) on weekends during wildflower season.
Mayflower Gulch Trail
Mayflower Gulch offers stunning wildflower viewing with just a 3-ish mile hike. A gentle (but constant) uphill grind brings you to a stunning alpine cirque that features all the colorful wildflowers you can imagine. How many species can you spot?
Jones Pass Road
If hiking isn’t your thing, but you want an easy scenic drive near Denver that’s packed with wildflowers, check out Jones Pass. You’ll want AWD and a little bit of clearance to reach the top, but the gentler bottom half of the road also delivers on sub-alpine wildflowers.
Local Tip: This place offers some of the best free camping near Denver if you want to spend the night under the stars.
Eastern Colorado Wildflowers at Pawnee National Grasslands
There’s something really magical about the diversity of flora in the Colorado grasslands. The Pawnee Buttes in the Pawnee National Grasslands are certainly worth a visit during the spring months. So much is in bloom it’s an absolutely stunning scene to experience.
Local Tip: If you’ve got allergies, definitely pack some allergy meds for this trip! I found I was sniffling constantly!
Where is the Wildflower Capital of Colorado?
Crested Butte is known as the wildflower capital of Colorado. This is largely due to the many meadows and open spaces in the surrounding mountains. Some of the top backpacking trips in Colorado traverse these beautiful meadows that are packed with flowers.
Personally, there are several places throughout the state where you can experience stunning wildflower displays. Crested Butte is certainly stunning, but don’t discount the other spectacular spaces on this list!
Tips for Wildflower Viewing
Know before you go. Colorado wildflowers are a total treasure for the state, so be respectful with your visit. Here are a few quick tips.
Don’t pick the flowers! These flowers play a vital role in the food chain and local ecosystem. Some plants take years to mature, meaning they don’t flower easily. Look with your eyes, take pictures, and leave the flowers be.
Stay on the trail. Alpine meadows and tundra are extremely sensitive environments. Often times the early summer months have wet, moist soils. When you step on the tundra you impact it for years to come – especially if it’s wet.
Come prepared. Wildflower season coincides with the monsoon season. This means that dangerous thunderstorms rain down almost daily in the mountains. Check the weather before heading out, bring rain gear and plenty of layers. When hiking above the treeline, plan to be back below the trees by noon.
Additional Local Colorado Travel Advice Just for You
Looking to enjoy the best of Colorado like a local, not a tourist? Then you’re in the right place.