When it comes to wildflower hikes, few places can compare with Aspen Snowmass. The snow-capped Elk Mountains combined with alpine meadows and streamsides awash in brillant color is truly stunning. Whether you’re a seasoned wildflower hunter or just starting out on your floriculture journey, the Aspen Snowmass area has a trail, route or tour that will help you get up close and personal to these beauties.
If you’re looking for a guided experience, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers a daily Wildflower Walk in Snowmass at 10 a.m. as well as a variety of guided hikes that can provide wildflower encounters. You can even hire a naturalist guide and let them know what sort of wildflower hiking experience you’re after. If you’re planning on finding wildflowers on your own, which is totally doable and fun, we recommend downloading the AllTrails smartphone app. This app shows all the nearby trails nearby, as well as trail maps, length, difficulty, time, accessibility and if pets are allowed or not.
#1 – Wild Geranium
Wild geranium grows from thick rhizomes that are close to the soil. A single plant can produce a clump of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 100 centimeters) in diameter. The plant is rose-purple and 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 4 centimeters). The best time to see wild geranium is between April and July. The best opportunity to see that lovely flower is by hiking the Vista Trail located by the Base Village in Snowmass, it is a 4.2 mile out and back and considered as a moderate trail. You will gain elevation of 1,345 feet, time to finish the trail should take around 2 hours.
#2 – Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush is also called a painted cup. The name Castilleja comes from Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo and coccinea, which means red, referring to the red bracts that the flower has. The red color is hard to see for insects, but this one is adapted for pollination by hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have long bills that allow them to reach the nectar from the flower.
#3 – Bush Sunflowers
Bush sunflowers heads are from 1.0 to 2.5 inches in diameter. They like to be on dry hillsides. Sunflowers are blooming from June to August. The best area to see those species is on Sunnyside Trail (pictured below) in Aspen. It is 10.8-miles long, located near to Cemetery Lane in Aspen. It takes around 6 hours to complete the loop of the trail. Sunnyside trail is considered a hard trail. You gain 2,683 feet of elevation. The best time to explore this trail is between April and October, but you should start in the morning because there is no shade.
#4 – Colorado Columbine
Colorado Columbine is the state flower and a beauty to behold. This pretty flower can be white, violet, and lavender or blue petals. “The common name “columbine” is from the Latin word for dove and refers to a supposed resemblance of the buds or flowers to groups of doves.”
#5 – Fairy Slippers
Fairy Slipper is calypso orchid, which is typically from 3 to 5 inches (10-14 centimeters). They are pink flowers which you can find on mountain trails from late March until May or June. The flowers live no more than five years. The best area to see Colorado Columbine and Fairly Slipper is Hunter Creek Trail (pictured below) in Aspen. The trailhead is located in the north part of the city. The trail runs through the forest and the Hunter Creek river. As you go along, you will surely admire the beauty of nature. There are two options to hike this trail. First, Lower Hunter Creek, which is a 1.7-mile out and back, which will take you around 1.5 hours. You will gain 456 feet elevation over there, which makes it an easy hike. The other option is North Hunter Creek, an 8.9 mile. The elevation gain is 1,040 feet and it will take around 4 hours.
#6 – Early Meadow Rue
Early Meadow Rue rise from 8 to 28 inches (20-70 cm); flowers have four purple to greenish-white sepals that drop off before fruits are formed. You can find this flower in north-facing slopes or rocky areas. It blooms in early spring April-May, and fruits appear one month later. It stays green throughout the summer.
#7 – Green Gentian (Monument Plant)
Green Gentian is a tall flower stalk, and they’re special plants because they’re a monocarpic, i.e. grow for many years, flowers once, then dies. The Green Gentian attracts our attention because delicate beautiful white flowers erupt from a large basal rosette of leave. Usually they are found in clusters. If you look carefully around a flowering stalk, you can spot younger plants.
To spot these species, head up American or Cathedral Lake (pictured below). American Lake Trail is a 6.0-mile out and back hike, located near Aspen. The elevation gain is 2,020 feet. It is a steep hike which takes you around 4 hours round way. Cathedral Lake is a 5.3-mile out and back trail, where you gain 2,073 feet of elevation. It will take you around 4 hours both ways as well. Hikes are through the forest and open areas full of Aspen trees; you can enjoy the beauty of nature during the walk, and then on end, fantastic lakes are waiting for you. The views are priceless and worth it. Maybe it is not the best for beginners, but when you have already done some hikes in the Snowmass/ Aspen area, then you should explore this one! You need a car to get to the trailhead. It is a 20 minutes ride from downtown Aspen.
#8 – Lupine
Lupine is a pretty blooming flower with divided leaves. It can be from 1 to 3 feet tall. It has at least 11 varieties. You can see the lupine between May and September.
The best opportunity to see Lupine will be on Government Tail in Snowmass. The trailhead is located 2 min far away from the Timberline Condominiums. The trail is 3-mile-long both ways, elevation what you gain is 721 feet, and it takes around 1,5 hours to make a loop. It’s an easy hike.
- Carry at least two water bottles. High altitude and exercise can make you dehydrated quicker than usual.
- Put on sunscreen; the sun is bright and strong here.
- Bring some snacks; protein bars, fruits, and whatever you like. Some hikes can take longer than you expect to finish.
- Wear good hiking shoes. Hikes can often seem to be easy but gradually get harder as you climb in elevation.
- Take some extra layers. Often with hikes that gain a lot of elevation, it can get cold as you climb. Afternoon rain can come in very quickly as well.
- Bring sunglasses and a hat.