The coming of spring is pretty well celebrated in our family, and I suspect in many households across the world. We’re ready to throw open the windows, pack away the skis and snowshoes, and enjoy some fresh mountain air. We’ve got to make it through April in Vermont of course, which is pretty fickle, but we’re well on our way to blue skies, tank tops,bug spray, and wildflowers.
Wildflower hikes might just be my favorite way to enjoy spring — they’re usually more like meanders, and often include a picnic blanket, field guide, and a camera. With the memory of winter still hanging in the air, a field full of wildflowers takes on a near mystical quality. Are you ready to dust off your hiking boots and find the colors of spring? These are some of the best wildflower hikes in the lower 48.
Blue Lake Trail, Brainard Lake Recreation Area: Ward, Colorado
Length: 5.1 miles round trip
Kids: for sure
Dogs: on leash
Best time to see wildflowers: June – July
This hike has a little bit of everything – pristine alpine lakes, meandering streams, towering mountains, and meadows full of wildflowers. It’s a steady climb to Blue Lake, but easy enough for young and old hikers who are steady on their feet. Native flowers start popping up as soon as the snow melts in these parts, which might not be until July. Expect to see columbine, indian paintbrush, blue flax, bistort, and elephant’s head along the trail, plus the tiny succulents and alpine plants that are so common above the tree line. You’ll also have spectacular views of Mt. Toll, Mt. Audubon, and Paiute Peak surrounding Blue Lake. The grassy shores of Blue Lake are exactly where you want to have your afternoon picnic. You can thank me later.
If there’s a downside to this trail, it’s that a lot of folks love to hike it. Start early in the summer, especially on weekends. Oh, and there’s a $10 fee (self-pay) to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It’s well worth it – I promise. Ready to make it happen? Find out more on ProTrails.
Skyline Trail Loop, Mount Rainier National Park: Longmire, Washington
Length: 5.5 miles
Difficulty: pretty tough
Kids: Yes, if they like to hike. If they’re new to hiking check out the waterfall side trail as you’re making the initial climb.
Best time to see wildflowers: July – August
Welcome to the Paradise Valley, on the south side of Mount Rainier. The Skyline Trail Loop is in a heavily-trafficked day-use area, but there are so many trails that criss-cross the valley, mountains, and glaciers, that the traffic thins out significantly once you leave the parking lot. This loop climbs steeply in places (1,700 feet in all), but it’s a climb that is well worth the work. The alpine meadows are carpeted with mountain heather, lupines, scarlet paintbrushes, bistort, and cascade asters in the summer, plus you’ll have AMAZING views of Tahoma, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and the Paradise Valley. You’ll skirt the edge of Nisqually Glacier, spy the sun-worshipping hoary marmots, and the picturesque Sluiskin Falls. Yes, this trail is a stunner – waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, and of course – wildflowers. For details and directions, visit the National Park Service.
Treasure Loop Trail, Lost Dutchman State Park: Apache Junction, Arizona
Length: 2.4 miles (loop)
Best time to see wildflowers: February – March
This easy hike traverses the desert landscape to the incredible Praying Hands rock formation. There are benches along the way for relaxing and incredible views of the distant mountains and the desert wildflowers. Keep a look out for brittlebush, desert marigold, desert tobacco, and masses of California poppy. This loop takes about an hour to hike, but there are numerous side trails of varying difficulty if you want to make a day of it. Want to find more wildflower hikes in Arizona? Check out Arizona Hiker’s Guide. It’s a great resource for hikers of all abilities.
Canyon Creek Meadows, Camp Sherman, Oregon
Length: 4.5 mile (loop)
Best time to see wildflowers: July – August
Another fantastic and easy wildflower hike – perfect for a meandering stroll, a mountain picnic, and bouncy kids. This trail explores the wildflower meadows of the High Cascades, without the strenuous climbing. This can be a busy place on summer weekends, so if you’re looking for solitude, shoot for a weekday. The National Forest Service also recommends hiking the trail clockwise to reduce the number of people you run into. Masses of lupines and red paintbrush are prolific until the end of July, but be warned – so are the mosquitoes! Want to explore more of Oregon? Check out the Best Summer Wildflower Hikes in the Central Cascades.
Bar Island, Acadia National Park: Bar Harbor, Maine
Length: 2 miles (round trip)
Kids: will love it!
Best time to see wildflowers: May – June
There are huge fields of pink, purple, and white lupines all over Maine — all over Acadia National Park for that matter. Bar Island is a small island near the town of Bar Harbor. The coolest thing about it, is that you have to walk there from Bar Harbor at low tide. The walk takes about two hours round trip, and you’ve got about three hours to do it if you want to stay dry. I recommend leaving the picnic at home and indulging in a waterfront lunch at Galyn’s Restaurant.
The trail follows a dirt road that runs along the shore, through the meadow, and up to a hill with stunning views of the surrounding harbor and park lands. The meadows in the middle of the island are just brimming with flowers. You’ll also see an incredible array of songbirds and perhaps a deer or two. It’s a magical place. You can learn more about hiking trails in Acadia National Park on the National Park Service website.
Taylor Creek Loop, Tosohatchee Preserve: Christmas, Florida
Length: 4.7 miles
Best time to see wildflowers: February
Explore a botanical wonderland along the St. Johns River. This beautiful ecosystem is shaded by towering palm trees, making the perfect habitat for songbirds and other elusive critters. Throughout the 31,000-acre preserve, you’ll find lots of water – meandering creeks, cypress swamps, and freshwater marshes, but the Taylor Creek Loop is usually high and dry. Wildflower highlights include stunning displays of irises, the vibrant St. John’s-wort, and the delicate butterwort. Want to learn more about Florida’s wildflowers? Space Coast Wildflowers is a fabulous resource.
Wildflower hikes are a great way to shake off Old Man Winter and immerse yourself in the fragrance and colors of spring. Do you have a favorite wildflower walk? Leave your tips in the comments – I’d love to explore some new trails this year.
Need a little hiking and wildflower inspiration? Check out these books (click on the photo for more info):
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