Colorado wildflower viewing is one of the most beautiful aspects of trail time in the Rocky Mountains. Chances are when you see a Colorado postcard, it’s going to feature a photo of a mountain covered in wildflowers. They are like the sprinkles of the mountains. Everyone loves sprinkles.
I’ve been wildflower hunting for about a year now, starting mid-summer in 2014 and picking back up again when the blooms started this spring. Wildflower hunting on hikes has added a really fun twist to my already lovely hikes around Northern Colorado. They have become my Pokemon, where I feel like I have to collect them all. I get the biggest ear-to-ear grin when I spot one that I haven’t photographed yet. It’s nearing ridiculous.
I think the appeal for me is that it’s just another way for me to slow down on the trail and really enjoy all that there is in the outdoors. I previously had a personal trainer mindset on hikes, trying to keep up a fast pace and higher heart rate (with 10 years of being a personal trainer, it’s a hard habit to break). By slowing my pace a bit and stopping to, well, smell the flowers, my outdoor experiences have become exponentially more enjoyable. Now they are much more than just a way to burn calories.
So, what’s wildflower hunting? It’s all about photography and not picking wildflowers. That’s rule #1 when it comes to wildflowers. By picking them and taking them home, not only are they not going to last, but it damages the surrounding ecosystem. So don’t pick, just take a pic.
Some people enjoy marking off a check list from a wildflower field guide, similar to birding, but I’ve been taking photos and attempting to identify them when I get home. Larimer County Natural Resources has a wildflower guide available to purchase at their office. There are a variety of resources available to help you out. I use Wildflowers of Colorado most, and then when I can’t find a flower in the gallery, I’ll try to utilize other websites. There are identification apps for your phone too (I might suck it up and spend the $10 on this).
Wildflowers bloom all year long throughout various elevations, even though there’s a peak season mid-spring. After a 39-year bloom count study, scientists have found that climate change has impacted wildflower bloom seasons, creating a shift in earlier blooms and a longer blooming season over all, running from late April to late September.
If you follow Fresh Air Fort Collins on Instagram, then you’ve been seeing all of the different wildflowers I’ve found on hikes, both in the city Natural Areas and in the mountains. I’ll be writing a multi-part series to help guide you to where the most and best wildflowers are blooming throughout the year!
Right now we’re noticing blooms in the lower elevations and prairies. The drier climates warm up a little faster, and the flowers produce the tiniest blossoms. Keep your eyes peeled and slow your roll, because they can be easy to miss!
These featured trails are the areas with the most wildflowers or the most variety, although they certainly aren’t the only places with wildflower blooms. Soapstone Prairie, Bobcat Ridge and various Natural Areas within city limits all currently have wildflowers for you to look for.
This is an easy trail for adults and kids alike. You’ll see a variety of wildlife, and if you come down the trail at sunset, you will hear coyotes howl! It’s a very popular spot for trail runners and mountain bikers, so be sure to be aware when stopping to photograph flowers. Right now there are a multitude of blooms. On my last hike, I counted at least 14 different types of flowers. This natural Area includes a rare plant sanctuary.
This is one of the first trailheads you drive by on your way to Red Feather Lakes. It’s a light useage trail mostly visited by residents of Red Feather Lakes. The main trail is about a mile long and goes right through the middle of a wide open meadow that is covered in thousands upon thousands of wildflowers right now. It’s incredible.
Be aware that there is no Lady Moon Meadow Loop, even though the trail map at the trailhead indicates that there is. It’s not finished yet. The area is full of stock and game trails, and also surrounded by private property. Your best bet is to stay on the main trail here if you’re not familiar with National Forest boundaries.