Incredible Wildflower Hikes In The West

The West is one of the best places to view wildflowers and these eight hikes from various states showcase some of the best color to be seen from the trails.

By Courtney Johnson
Explore Ambassador

From lupine and Indian paintbrush to flower cactus and poppy, the West is one of the best places to view wildflowers. These eight hikes from various states showcase some of the best color to be seen from the trails.

Mojave Poppy Bloom

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve — Mojave Desert Grassland

Within the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, you can find eight miles of hiking trails located in the Mojave Desert, including a wheelchair-accessible trail. The 1,700-acre park is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with a $10 per car admission fee.

Depending on the winter rainfall, the intensity and duration of the color of the poppies varies from year to year. Every day is said to be different in the reserve, with new blooms throughout the season lasting from mid-February through May. If enough rain occurs, a super bloom — a rare and special event where poppies all bloom at the same time — can occur, like it did in 2019. While the poppies are the main attraction, lupine, coreopsis and fiddlenecks are also common wildflowers in the area.

Hawks, coyotes and bobcats frequent the grasslands. Kangaroo rats, gophers, snakes and other reptiles and mammals also call the area home. In dry seasons, the poppies may not bloom at all. The best bet is to check the website, social media and the Poppy Cam before making a visit.

Mojave Poppy Bloom (U.S. National Park Service/Andrew Cattoir)
Black Canyon National Recreation Trail — Black Canyon City, Arizona

The Black Canyon National Recreation Trail is an 80-mile trail within the Sonoran Desert that stretches from the Carefree Highway in Phoenix to State Route 169 near the town of Mayer. On this multiuse trail, mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders are treated to a display of flowering cactus, lupine and purple owl clover. The trail ranges from 1,600 to 4,400 feet in elevation.

In just a 4-mile round trip out and back, you can see plenty of colorful flowers budding on the saguaro cacti. These flowers tend to bloom at dusk and will remain open until midmorning before the heat causes them to wilt. If the saguaro cactus flower is high on your list, time your hike to be sure to see some blooms at the peak, typically from early May to June. Brittlebush blazes yellow, while the lavender lupine brings a splash of color. Begin the hike at the Black Canyon City Trailhead close to the Interstate 17 outpost in Rock Springs. There won’t be too much elevation gain, but the trail is single track and rocky in places.

This trail was once a Native American trade route and served as a wagon road between the towns of Phoenix and Prescott. If it’s a hot day, you can cool off in the Agua Fria River, a seasonal spring flow. Be sure to bring plenty of water, because within the forest of cactus there is very little shade. There is no fee to use this trail. Leashed dogs are also able to enjoy this hike. This route is popular, so expect crowds, especially on weekends.

(Courtney Johnson)

Cecret Lake Trail — Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

A family-friendly hike, the Cecret Lake Trail is a 1.6-mile out-and-back hike with abundant views and wildflowers that surround Lake Crescent. Beginning at the Albion Basin Campground, the trail gently climbs for an elevation gain of 300 feet.

(Courtney Johnson)

Some call the area the best place to view wildflowers in all the state. In fact, the Wasatch Wildflower Festival occurs at Albion Basin yearly in mid-July. The flowers typically peak in mid-August, but with enough spring rain, you can see flowers much earlier in the summer. Indian paintbrush, lupine, sunflowers, columbine and fireweed are just some of the flowers you can see. Moose are known to frequent the area as well. Test your voice with a few yodels — Yodel-Ay-Hee-Hoo from the top. Don’t forget to stop to read interpretive signs along the way that tell about the local flora and fauna.

(Courtney Johnson)

While the hike may be called Cecret Lake, this is one of the most popular hikes in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Start your hike earlier in the morning, or go in the evening to catch an amazing sunset near Sugarloaf Peak. A shuttle bus runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to help with parking congestion. If you do park at the campground, you also have to pay a day-use fee. I suggest making the hike longer by actually starting at the Albion Meadows Trailhead near the base area of Alta Ski Resort for a round-trip total of almost 5 miles. This means you can also avoid having to take a shuttle by parking at the resort.

Crested Butte — Crested Butte, Colorado

Named the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” the town of Crested Butte is home to miles of wildflower-lined trails and the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival in mid-July, when the mountain area is in full bloom. Over 50 species of wildflowers can be found. Each hike in the area showcases flowers at different times, making a visit to the area special from midspring through late August and into September, depending on snow.

For early-season visitors from midspring through June, two recommended hikes are the 7-mile, moderate-rated Lower Loop Trail that has an elevation gain of 400 feet and is flanked with larkspur and Indian paintbrush, and the Lupine Trail covered in, you guessed it, lupines and corn lilies that features 5 miles of wide mountain views.

Later in the summer, the state flower columbine can be seen all along the 4-mile, single-track Columbine Trail, along with sunflowers. If you want to see a dense population of sunflowers, head to the Rustlers Gulch Trail — a 9-mile round-trip hike with 2,600 feet of elevation gain. Find the start of fall colors on the Brush Creek Trail — 4.5 miles round trip, with red, yellow and orange hues amongst the sagebrush.

You can’t go wrong with most of the trails in the area; all of them display beautiful colors throughout the summer. Be aware that most of these trails are shared with mountain bikes. Leashed dogs may enjoy the trails as well.

Dog Mountain — Columbia River Gorge, Washington

Nestled in the Cascade range, Dog Mountain is a dream destination for those who enjoy wildflowers. In fact, some say that it is one of the best places to view them in the entire Columbia River Gorge. Put this hike on your list from mid-May through mid- to late June for a colorful display of blue lupine, balsamroot and Indian paintbrush. You may even be lucky enough to see fairy slippers, an orchid species.

Just like the name says, this is a dog of a hike, with steady and steep grades. This 7.2-mile loop has an elevation gain shy of 3,000 feet. Once you reach the top, the views of the river gorge, wildflowers, Mount Hood and even Mount St. Helens will be worth it. There are two routes you can take for this trail. The Old Dog Mountain Trail begins at the east end of the parking lot. It is steeper, but is best for viewing meadows of wildflowers. You can take the newer and less steep trail back down for a gentler descent.

Bring along your leashed pup to enjoy the wildflowers, too. Due to the popularity of this trail system, a Dog Mountain Trail System Permit is required from April 24 through June 13 on Saturdays and Sundays only, and on Memorial Day.

Many Glacier Valley wildflowers, Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service/ David Restivo)

Grinnell Glacier Trail — Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is home to close to a thousand species of wildflowers within its 1,583 square miles. The flowers begin to show in early spring, with a peak between July and August. The Grinnell Glacier Trail is one popular wildflower hike within the park. This trail has it all, from glaciers and wildlife to mountain lakes and a large selection of wildflowers, including yellow columbine, silverleaf phacelia, yellow monkey-flower and Indian paintbrush, especially as you go higher in elevation.

The hike is a rugged out-and-back covering 11.2 miles with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It isn’t necessary to complete the whole hike to see the beautiful flowers, but the views at the top of the 150-acre Grinnell Glacier, Gem Glacier and Mount Gould are breathtaking. The trail starts off easier while hiking around Lake Josephine. From there, the elevation gain begins. Mount Gould will tower over you, while Grinnell Falls features seven drops, including the longest of 280 feet from the glacier down to Grinnell Lake. Be on the lookout for mountain goats and other wildlife as you make your way up to Grinnell Glacier.

You can shorten the hike by taking a boat from the Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake. A second boat will take you across Lake Josephine to cut 3.5 miles round trip off the hike. This popular trail is best hiked from July through October, in between the snowy months. A national parks pass or daily entry admission is required.

(U.S. National Park Service)

Lost Mine Trail — Big Bend National Park

Located in southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park lies within the Chisos mountain range, with a large area encompassing the Chihuahuan Desert. With over 150 miles of mountain and desert trail, the park features 1,200 species of plants, making blooms appear almost any time of year you visit.

One of the most popular hikes in the park is also one of the top rated for seeing wildflowers. The Lost Mine Trail is a 4.8-mile out-and-back that packs a vista-view punch. Dubbed a good introduction to the Chisos Mountains, this trail has plenty of benches to take a break at as you gradually switchback up to the top, over 1,100 feet. Flowering prickly pear cactus, mule’s ears, ocotillo and bluebonnets are just some of the landscape colors you can see. Enjoy views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon and, on clear days, even Sierra del Carmen in Mexico. You may even be treated to a hike above the clouds.

Limited parking is available for this popular trail, so plan to get there early, maybe to catch the sunrise. Sunset is also beautiful from the top. There is not much shade on the trail, so bring plenty of water. A national parks pass or daily entry admission is required.

Glacier Lupine

Triple Lakes Trail — Denali National Park

One of the best and most scenic trails in the park, the Triple Lakes Trail is 9.8 miles one way and can be done as an out-and-back or a shuttle route. There are also backcountry campsites near the second and third lakes that can be reserved on a first-come basis.

You can make the hike a shorter 5-mile round trip by starting your hike from the south trailhead near Crabbe’s Crossing. At 2.5 miles, you will come to the third lake — and your turnaround point if you want to keep the hike to 5 miles. The trail starts as a downhill with a gentle climb back to the parking lot.

All summer long, lupine, arnica and bluebells can be found along the trail. Find a shady spot to see if you can see Dane’s dwarf gentian. The state flower, the mountain forget-me-not, is not to be missed along the trail. Besides the wildflowers, hikers will often see Dall sheep, bears or moose along the trail. Bear spray is recommended. A national parks pass or daily entry admission is required.

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