In Winter Park, CO the spring and summer seasons aren’t complete without wildflowers. With a huge snow season, and early rainy season, we are in store for one of the best wildflower seasons on record!
Going on a hike to see wildflowers can be an efficient, rewarding, and enjoyable experience for several reasons. Wildflowers are a beautiful and colorful part of the natural environment here in Winter Park, and we have a very short window to view and appreciate them. Wildflowers are an important part of the ecosystem, and each species has its unique characteristics and adaptations. Hiking to see wildflowers can be an opportunity to observe and learn about the different species that grow in a specific area, including rare and endangered species.
Local’s Tip: Stop by the Information Center in downtown Winter Park for hard-copy maps .
Wildflowers typically have a short blooming season, making the experience of seeing them even more special and unique. Hiking to see wildflowers during their peak season can be an opportunity to witness this fleeting event and a great opportunity to venture out and #optoutside. So where are the best places to find the most beautiful wildflower displays? Here are our favorite hiking trails near Winter Park to view and appreciate wildflowers:
MAPS & TRAIL TIPS: For updates on trail status, use COTREX (a mobile and desktop application for a statewide comprehensive and interactive trail map) to always have your maps with you.
1. MONARCH LAKE | GRANBY
Distance: 4.1-mile loop | Difficulty: Easy | Best Time to Hike: May-June
Hike the popular Monarch Lake trail just south of Lake Granby to explore a 4-mile stretch of beautiful Colorado wildflowers that bloom alongside the forest. Offering incredible views of the lake, this easy trail is perfect for the whole family, including your (leashed) four-legged friends. Keep your eyes open for moose and other wildlife while you saunter along this trail at your own pace.
Find it: Head north on U.S. Highway 34 for about six miles, then turn east to County Road (CR) 6 (Arapaho Bay Road/NFSR 125), and drive 10 miles to the trail head parking. from Granby turn north onto US Highway 34, nine miles east on CR 6 (FSR 125, Arapaho Bay Road), and head to the southeast end of Lake Granby.
2. TRIPPERARY TRAIL | FRASER
Distance: 2.2 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Best Time to Hike: May-June
As you start the hike look for Green Pyrolas on the left side. These have dark green basal leaves and single stalks of nodding flowers. Ahead there are meadows stuffed with Corn Husk Lilies and Green Gentians (Monument Plants). Look for Aspen Sunflowers that usually face east, White Geraniums and Creamy Buckwheat.
Find it:Tipperary Trail is on CR 50, 5.3 miles from the corner of CR 5 and CR 50 to a parking lot on the right side of CR 50. Walk a few yards to the trailhead.
3. EAST INLET TRAIL | GRAND LAKE & ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Distance: 3- to 14.9-mile out and back | Difficulty: Moderate | Best Time to Hike: June-September
The East Inlet Trail is the best wildflower hike on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is it one of the quieter, lighter trafficked trails in the park, but it also offers the option to go for a shorter, 3-mile out and back hike or up to about 15 miles out and back, depending on your group’s ability or preference. Expect views of high-mountain lakes, nearby peaks, rivers and views of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Find it: Head toward the east side of Grand Lake, past West Portal, and to the East Inlet Trailhead.
4. RANGER MEADOW AND EAST SHORE TRAIL LOOP | GRAND LAKE
Distance: 6.7 mile loop | Difficulty: Easy | Best Time to Hike: June-September
The flowers begin right at the trailhead, look for Bog Orchids in the wetland. The flowers are white and very fragrant. Continue to a sunlit opening populated by Scarlet Gila (Fairy Trumpet), Blue Flax, Paintbrush, Mountain Parsley, White Geranium and Creamy Buckwheat. At the creek you may see Tall Chiming Bells, Monkshood, Bitter Cress (Brook Cress) and Brook Saxifrage.
Find it:From US Hwy 34, head south-east on CR 66. Turn left at the Green Ridge campground. Turn right at the intersection. Cross over the dam to the kiosk, turn east to the Ranger Meadow trail.
5. DEVIL’S THUMB | FRASER
Distance: 13.3-mile out and back | Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous | Best Time to Hike: April-August
With a 2,082ft elevation gain Devil’s Thumb is considered a difficult hike so you’ll want to be in good shape. Devil’s Thumb is a (leashed) dog-friendly hike through high mountain meadows, subalpine, timberline and above-timberline terrain. Views are ever-changing along the way, offering glimpses of Mt. Neva, Devil’s Thumb, Rollins Pass, and the town of Tabernash. Be sure to keep your eyes open in the wildflower-filled meadows and along the aspen trees throughout the hike for wildlife like beavers, deer, elk, or even bears! Be prepared for unique photo opportunities at the top, which offers 360-degree views of your breathtaking surroundings.
Find it: At the north end of the town of Fraser on US 40, between mile markers 226 and 227 is County Road 8. Turn onto CR 8 and follow this road for 6.4 miles. CR 8 turns into a good single lane dirt road and becomes USFR 128 (Water Board Road). Turn left and continue for 1.1 miles where the road ends at a spillway and park at the trailhead. From Fraser, head north on Hwy 40 and make a quick right (east) on County Road 8. Take this to County Road 81 and head north for 2 miles to FSR 128.2C and make a right (east) to the Trailhead. Be prepared – make sure you have the right, clothing, and supplies.
6. JIM CREEK | WINTER PARK
Distance: 6.6-mile out and back | Difficulty: Moderate | Best Time to Hike: Year-Round
This is a moderate hike located across from Winter Park Resort towards James Peak. The trail is accessible all year long, and it’s extremely popular for snowshoers in the wintertime. However, if you’re looking for wildflowers, the best time to hike it is in the late spring and summer months. The hike meanders through a heavy lodge pole pine forest, following the creek and offering many wildflower, aspen and even moose encounters!
Find it: Access the Jim Creek Trial from the Discovery Trail Trailhead in the Bonfils Stanto Outdoor Center, across from Winter Park Resort off of Highway 40.
7. EAST SHORE/CONTINENTAL DIVIDE SCENIC TRAIL | GRANBY
Distance: 3-mile out and back | Difficulty: Easy | Best Time to Hike: June-July
The East Shore Trail is a short, 3-mile section of the larger Continental Divide Scenic Trail. This quiet section follows the Colorado River between Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby, but you can continue hiking the Continental Divide Scenic Trail for longer if desired. On this short stretch of trail, hikers can try to count up to about 90 wildflower species between late June to early July, when the meadows are the most fertile, but there are often blooms from June all the way through August.
In addition to enjoying the sea of blooms, take in views of the Colorado River, Grand Bay, mountain lakes, creeks and meadows. Keep your eyes open for wildlife including marmots, moose, elk, and, if you’re lucky, an occasional eagle!
Find it: From the town of Granby, head to the south end of Lake Granby on Highway 34 and Forest Road 125. Follow the road to the Arapaho Bay Campground, and find the trailhead at the northwest end of the parking lot.
8. COLUMBINE LAKE | FRASER & TABERNASH
Distance: 3.4-mile out and back | Difficulty: Easy to Moderate | Best Time to Hike: June-July
The Columbine Lake hike follows an old Jeep road until it reaches a junction with the Caribou Pass Trail at 1.7 miles. As the Caribou Trail splits away, stay to the right to remain on the Columbine Lake Trail. The trail continues along the creek to its source at Columbine Lake. This tree-lined lake is nestled in a steep basin on the northwest face of Mount Neva, and it’s a great place to take in views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Hike the trail late June-July for the best wildflowers. The trail is perfect for a stroll, birding, or other wildlife viewing, and it’s dog-friendly!
As you start the hike you will find Elephant Heads in wet meadows and near streams. Look closely at the flower for the “elephant trunk.” In moist woods look for Twisted Stalk. It is an easy flower to identify, the white flower is under the leaves. Parry’s Primrose are just above the waterfall that you will be passing by. Stop and admire them. When you reach the lake continue to the small stream and you will see an amazing array of flowers.
Find it: This beautiful hike is accessed at the Junco Lake Trailhead northeast of Winter Park off Highway 40, 1 mile south of Tabernash and 4 miles north of Fraser. Follow Meadow Creek Road east to the north end of Meadow Creek Reservoir, where you will find the Junco Lake Trailhead. From US 40 turn east of CR 83. Turn left on CR 84 to the Junco Lake Trailhead.
9. ELK MOUNTAIN TRAIL | HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS
Distance: 3.5-mile out and back | Difficulty: Easy | Best Time to Hike: March-October
The Elk Mountain Trail is located near the town of Hot Sulphur Springs, where it cuts through the Arapahoe National Forest. Take in great views of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park while strolling through wildflowers on this easy-going hike. This trail is also an incredible place for birding and other wildlife viewing. The area becomes popular during hunting season, so wear orange and check on the hunting schedule before heading out in September and October.
Find it: Find the Elk Mountain trailhead off of Forest Road 112, 8 miles west of Highway 125. The trailhead will be on Forest Road 112 on the right-hand side.
10. BUTLER GULCH | HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS
Distance: 5 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Best Time to Hike: March-October
As your start your hike look under the conifers for the Wood Nymph. The flower is white, single and saucer shaped. The leaves are in a basal rosette. Also, in the shade are Sickletop Louseworts with blossoms resembling the beaks of parrots. In the Alpine zone look for Kings Crown, Queens Crown, Parry Gentian, Moss Campion and Alpine Sandwort. This is a trail you don’t want to miss during peak bloom.
Find it: U.S. 40 to the Henderson Mine turnoff. Turn right at the fork. The trailhead is at a gate on the left.
There are some truly fantastic hikes near Winter Park, and we absolutely encourage you to go out and experience and appreciate these local wildflowers for yourself! That said, remember to teach children not to pick them and to keep pets from trampling them, or destroying the natural beauty of the area. It’s important to stay on the trail to maintain the delicate ecosystem balance, and to keep our wildflowers coming back every year.
Overall, going on a hike to see wildflowers in Winter Park can be a rewarding and enriching experience that combines the beauty of nature, the benefits of outdoor activity, and the opportunity to learn about the local environment here in Colorado.