wildflowers are all over the mountains right now, but some places in Summit County are better than others if you want to get your flower fix this season. Mid- to late July is usually the best time to see blooms in all of the High Country areas.
In forests, look for wild roses, yellow arnica and fairy slipper orchids, and in wet areas find tall chiming bells and elephant heads. Head to meadows for penstemon, sneezeweed, and our state flower, the columbine. In alpine areas, don’t miss the queen’s crown, the gentian and the bright and beautiful bundles of forget-me-nots.Learn more »
Don’t stop exploring: Hiking guru Kim Fenske lives the unorthodox life of a bus driver by weekday and solo adventurer by weekend.
The Raggeds Wilderness Area is 65,393-acres of national forest lands located northwest of Crested Butte. Fifty miles of hiking trails penetrate the wild lands surrounding a jagged group of mountains in the Ruby Range west of Slate Creek. Kebler Pass Road runs adjacent to the southern boundary of the wilderness area and divides the Raggeds Wilderness from the West Elk Wilderness, found farther to the south. Kebler Pass Road provides access to the primitive national forest campgrounds at Lake Irwin, Lost Lake and Erickson Springs, as well as the dispersed camping area at Horse Ranch Park.Learn more »
You remember the “choose your own adventure” stories from when you were a kid, the ones with dozens of ways to find glory — or doom — for your ink-and-paper hero?
Welcome to the real thing, circa 2016.Learn more »
Bobby Moakley remembers his first trip to Grand Canyon National Park like it was yesterday. At 17 years old, the Boston native met with a group of about 20 fellow hikers — most of who were born deaf, like he — for a few days of hiking and rafting and simply enjoying the great outdoors.
“I had a community with me that understood my impairment, looked at me and didn’t think of me as someone who is deaf,” Moakley remembers. “That was the first time I’d been viewed not as someone who is deaf, but just someone who happens to be deaf.”Learn more »
Huron Peak (14,003 feet) has the distinction of being the 14er located farthest from a paved road in Colorado. However, the Clear Creek watershed was once a bustling area filled with more than 1,500 settlers seeking gold, silver and copper during the last decades of the 19th century through World War I. Clear Creek Valley, through which the Continental Divide Trail now passes, is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.
I decided on the short, easy hike up Huron Peak during early summer because the weather forecast indicated unstable afternoon weather with scattered showers — typical for the Sawatch Range. I was very familiar with the trail up Huron Peak from frequent visits in every season.Learn more »
Among the many visitor attractions in the area surrounding Pikes Peak, I enjoy stopping in Woodland Park for dinner after a full day of outdoor adventures. Fourteen miles west of Manitou Springs, Woodland Park has a prolific offering of more than 40 convenient restaurants lining Highway 24. While I am a fan of ethnic restaurants, including Serrano’s Mexican Bar and Grill and Fortune Dragon Chinese Restaurant, visitors can also choose more domestic fare at the Hungry Bear Restaurant, Bierwerks Brewery or Grandmother’s Kitchen.
Passing through Woodland Park, I also like the breathtaking views of Pikes Peak rising into the clouds south of town.Learn more »
“I Hear America Singing”
— Walt Whitman, 1819-1892Learn more »
Passing Keystone Resort and heading east on Montezuma Road, motorists, cyclists and even the occasional meandering pedestrian are being met with new digital signage as of Monday, June 27: “Danger! Aggressive Bears. No Camping next 6 miles.”
A stroll up County Road 5, the narrow two-lane byway where vehicles straddle the double-yellow lines to dodge individuals hugging the makeshift rock shoulders to get around, leads to any number of level grounds adjacent to the Snake River. In many of these easily accessible locales — on their surface ideal for car camping not far from the road — the flow of the nearby water drowns out any potential hum of the overhead power lines and lends just enough privacy to avoid disturbance.Learn more »
Living in the High Country and waiting on the close of our extended winter season is an experience that can test even the most resolute, with many of us dreaming only of kicking the dust off our beloved hikers or biking shoes.
Some simply sit tight just a bit longer, while others test our area’s notable trail system early in the spring. A great number playing guess-and-check end up stomping or riding through tracts of sludge, post-holing for significant stretches or dodging these occasional obstacles altogether by sidestepping established trail networks for makeshift routes.Learn more »
I am slogging through four-foot drifts of saturated snow and realize that I will need to start out on the first leg of the Wheeler Trail a fourth time in order to ascend the Tenmile Range, and then drop down into Miners Creek to complete the link with the Peaks Trail that leads to Gold Hill Trail en route to Breckenridge and the Blue River Valley.Learn more »
“Out Where the West Begins” by Arthur Chapman
Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger,Learn more »
This full moon is for Lauren.
As soon as the moon begins to shine on June 18 — not quite the full moon, but close — Vertical Runner plays host to the first-annual Love and Light 10K, a benefit run on the Breckenridge recpath in honor of Lauren Hoover. The 26-year-old local died on March 23, just three weeks after a head-on collision at Swan Mountain Road left her in a coma at a Denver-area hospital. She was an avid runner and yogi, the sort who regularly woke at dawn to snowboard, finish a run before heading to class at Meta Yoga Studios in Breckenridge or her job as a budtender at Breckenridge Cannabis Company, then High Country Healing.Learn more »
Pikes Peak is a popular destination for travelers exploring the Colorado Springs area. At 14,110 feet, Pikes Peak rises dramatically over the eastern plains of Colorado. Pikes Peak shares the distinction of being one of more than 50 14ers in Colorado. With a cog railroad, toll road and hiking trail access to the summit, Pikes Peak also offers diverse ways to enjoy reaching the mountain’s heights.
On Highway 24, Manitou Springs is about seven miles west of Colorado Springs. The Visitor Bureau on Manitou Avenue provides helpful orientation to food and recreation opportunities in the surrounding area. A few blocks west of the bureau is a roundabout that leads to Ruxton Avenue, where both the cog railroad and Barr Trail begin a half-mile up Ruxton Creek near an old hydroelectric power plant.Learn more »
Rupert Brooke’s “The Little Dog’s Day”
All in the town were still asleep,Learn more »
The Dark Canyon is one of the many hiking trails Colorado has to offer at an intermediate level
On my return from the Lizardhead Wilderness Area in the San Juans a while ago, I stopped near the summit of McClure Pass (8,755 feet) and made camp at the base of a few massive evergreens in McClure National Forest Campground.
In the morning, a Forest Protection Officer visited. When she heard that I had passed through without exploring the Raggeds Wilderness Area, she was upset and thrust a packet into my hand describing the Dark Canyon on Anthracite Creek, one of the best hikes in Colorado. Before I left camp, I promised to return and explore this good hiking place located in the forest north of the West Elk Wilderness Area for myself.Learn more »
The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,Learn more »
The Ptarmigan Trail is a great local hiking trail located east of Silverthorne, across the Blue River Valley from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area is 12,594 acres of forest, meadow and tundra, making it an ideal hiking place. The Ptarmigan Trail begins at 9,100 feet and ascends 5.4 miles to the summit of Ptarmigan Peak (12,504 feet), with a gain of 3,400 vertical feet. Thanks to a deceptively level grade during the first three miles as the trail proceeds north above the town, the trail profile is actually longer and has greater elevation gain than the route to Quandary Peak (14,265 feet), one of the “easy” 14ers found six miles south of Breckenridge.
Learn more »
Colorado National Monument provides hiking essentials to those looking for an adventure
The lowlands can offer a variety of Colorado hiking trails that are the perfect escape during the spring and fall seasons. Desert temperatures are warmer than the snow-capped tundra on mountain summits, but not too hot for a refreshing hike. To the west of Summit County, Colorado National Monument is a favorite destination. The area offers several good hiking places, many which make great day hikes among the eroded red rock plateaus, with views of exposed spires and natural bridges in the surrounding canyons.
Colorado National Monument’s main access, Rim Rock Road, winds its way to the top of a plateau about 600 feet above the valley below. From the top of the plateau, many of the great rock formations in the Monument are within view. The Civilian Conservation Corps is responsible for the development of the drainage, road and trail improvements inside the Monument. There are a dozen day-hike trails to enjoy, with trailheads marked at pullouts along Rim Rock Road.Learn more »
Dust off your snowshoes and tune up your fat bike. It’s winter race season.
For the 20th year, Pedal Power bike shop in Avon is hosting a winter race series for snowshoers and fat bikers. The Pedal Power Winter Race Series is a perfect outlet for high-energy endurance racers who just can’t get enough of singletrack in the summer — or just can’t stomach the thought of ski mountaineering.Learn more »
Red Buffalo Pass is a fantastic intermediate hiking trail Colorado has located in Summit County.
Red Buffalo Pass is located west of Silverthorne and east of Vail. The pass is named for the surrounding mountains of Red Peak (13,189 feet) and Buffalo Mountain (12,777 feet) and involves hiking upwards towards the summit. The pass itself is part of a ridge over the amphitheater bowl that lies west of Buffalo Mountain. Buffalo Pass (11,770 feet) is the ridge of the Gore Range that forms South Willow Creek watershed to the east and Gore Creek to the west.
This local hiking trail is intermediate in grade and strenuous due to the 5-mile trek from the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead to Red Buffalo Pass, with 2,000 feet of vertical gain. Expect to be hiking upwards for a lot on this trail! The dense evergreen forest near the trailhead provides opportunities to view wildflowers, including arnica, paintbrush, mountain chimes and columbine. The upper tundra meadows fill with avalanche lilies as soon as the snowfields melt in early summer. In the wetlands, globeflower and marsh marigolds line alpine brooks. The most outstanding scenery is found viewing the back slopes of Buffalo Mountain and sharp ridge of Eccles Pass to the south.Learn more »
South Willow Falls is one of the great hiking places in Summit County that is intermediate in difficulty and offers a waterfall
If you are searching for hiking trails with waterfalls, the South Willow Falls is the perfect trail for you. The falls is located in the valley between the steep, rocky slopes of Red Peak (13,189 feet) and Buffalo Mountain (12,777 feet). The pass itself is part of a ridge over the amphitheater bowl that lies west of Buffalo Mountain. South Willow Creek forms from the tributary brooks pouring out of the great bowl of dense evergreen forest west of Buffalo Mountain.
This local hiking trail is intermediate in grade, rising and descending a few hundred feet as it follows the base of Buffalo Mountain for 1.5 miles. South Willow Falls is two miles from the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead, with about 500 feet of elevation for a profile ¬—an easy day hike by mountain standards.Learn more »
Argentine Pass Trail is one of several local hiking trails that follows an old mining route
Anyone hiking Colorado trails often will appreciate the scenic views the Argentine Pass Trail offers. Dating back to 1869 as a transportation corridor, the Argentine Pass Trail is actually the remnant trace of a wagon toll road from Georgetown to mining camps on the western slope of the Continental Divide. The trail is a great option for anyone searching for hiking near Breckenridge.
In 1864, five years before the road was developed, silver deposits were found on the slopes of McClellan Mountain (13,587 feet), found 2 miles north of an area later named Argentine mining district. Argentine Peak (13,738 feet) was named after the Latin word argentum, meaning silver, and the ruins of area mines are plentiful throughout the Peru Creek watershed.Learn more »
Upper Cataract Lake is a classic Summit County Colorado hike that affords outdoor enthusiasts camping areas and a more challenging trail
Upper Cataract Lake is located south of Mount Powell (13,534 feet), below the Eagles Nest for which Eaglesnest Wilderness Area is named and is the perfect trail for a Colorado hiking trip. It forms a tributary for the stream of Cataract Creek that flows down a series of steep, rocky cliffs to Lower Cataract Lake. The hike requires about six hours of hiking over 10.5 miles of trail, with an elevation gain of 2,000 vertical feet, from 8,600 feet to 10,740 feet.
While the ascent is fairly typical of the steep climbs throughout Summit County, the trail is rough, rocky and eroded across a couple of miles above the softer trail among the aspen meadows at lower elevations. The distance and elevation gain make this a rigorous day hike. Backcountry camping is available at several lakes in the vicinity, including Surprise Lake, Cat Lake, Tipperary Lake and Upper Cataract Lake, as well as Mirror Lake, located a couple of miles west of Upper Cataract Lake.Learn more »
Explore this intermediate hike near Denver that offers a diverse number of wildflowers
Surprise Lake is one of many local hiking places located north of Dora Mountain (12,119 feet) on a tributary to Otter Creek that flows into Green Mountain Reservoir. A day hike to the lake and back to the trailhead is 6 miles and takes only three to four hours. The elevation profile goes from 8,600 feet at the Cataract Creek crossing near the Surprise Lake Trailhead to 10,040 feet at the lake (1,400 vertical feet) for a typical intermediate hike in Summit County and of a Colorado hiking trail.
An alternative loop hike to Tipperary Lake on the Gore Range Trail, crossing the upper portion of Cataract Creek and descending on the Eaglesmere Trail, involves 9 miles and six hours of hiking. Despite the good quality of the trail and a nearly level plateau once Surprise Lake is gained, only high-endurance hikers should attempt the full loop.Learn more »
Webster Pass Road ascends to the sources of the Snake River, streams from the slopes of Sullivan Mountain (13,134 feet), Landslide Peak (13,238 feet), Red Cone (12,801 feet), Handcart Peak (12,518 feet) and Teller Mountain (12,602 feet), all found along the Continental Divide.
A loop hike beginning at Webster Pass Road and passing northeast through the Snake River watershed to the ridgeline of Teller Mountain involves an intermediate ascent of 2,300 feet across 4.75 miles, with a total distance of 9 miles and three to four hours of hiking if the loop is completed down Deer Creek Road.Learn more »
Mayflower Gulch is a favorite beginner hiking trail in Summit County.
Nestled in the magnificent amphitheater below the ragged crest of Fletcher Mountain (13,951 feet), the ruins of the failed Boston Mining Company gold digs remain among a meadow of wetland wildflowers. Located on the west side of the Ten Mile Range, convenient access to the Mayflower Gulch Trail makes this a busy trail for summer hiking as well as winter backcountry recreation. The hike involves a gradual ascent of 2 miles from 10,990 feet to 12,000 feet on an old mining road. Providing time for exploration and photographs, the hike can be completed within two hours.
Wildflowers are abundant in the wetlands on the north side of the road, bordering Mayflower Creek. The hiking place features globeflower, elephant tusk, cinquefoil, lousewort, alpine smelowskia, bistort, paintbrush, chiming bells, columbine, arnica, beardtongue, alpine clover, and mountain goldenrod grow thick in the fertile fields of the valley.Learn more »
The Willow Lakes of the Gore Range are one of my favorite day-hike destinations in the state of Colorado. The lakes are nestled in the North Willow Creek watershed, surrounded by the sharp, ragged ridge of Red Peak (13,189 feet) to the south and Willow Peak (13,333 feet) forming the wall of the bowl to the north.
The hike is beyond intermediate, with an elevation gain of 2,400 feet (9,000 to 11,400 feet) and a strenuous distance of 13 to 18 miles, depending on the access route you choose. The effort is well rewarded, with an abundance of wildflowers and several alpine pools set against a dramatic rock wall backdrop. Give yourself eight hours of daylight to enjoy the hike.Learn more »
Hike Summit: Argentine Pass Trail near KeystoneAugust 30, 2015 —
Dating back to 1869 as a transportation corridor, the Argentine Pass Trail is actually the remnant trace of a wagon toll road from Georgetown to mining camps on the western slope of the Continental Divide.
In 1864, five years before the road was developed, silver deposits were found on the slopes of McClellan Mountain (13,587 feet), found 2 miles north of an area later named Argentine mining district. Argentine Peak (13,738 feet) was named after the Latin word argentum, meaning silver, and the ruins of area mines are plentiful throughout the Peru Creek watershed.
The Argentine Central Railway was constructed on the gentler eastern face of Mount McClellan, running from Silver Plume to Waldorf and up to the summit of Mount McClellan. Rail construction did not begin until 1905, when it was spearheaded by Edward J. Wilcox, owner of 65 mining properties in the Argentine mining district.
The rail was extended from Waldorf, a mining town destroyed by an avalanche, to the top of Mount McClellan with the intended destination of Grays Peak (14,270 feet) as a tourist attraction. The Panic of 1907 brought the collapse of the silver market and ruined Wilcox’s fortune. The railroad was sold at a loss of $256,000 in 1908, and the narrow-gauge railway subsequently went bankrupt by 1911. The tracks were removed in 1920.
Argentine Pass Trail is an intermediate trail for Summit County. The distance to the ridge above Horseshoe Basin from the parking area near the Shoe Basin Mine ruins is about 2.6 miles. The elevation rises from 11,300 feet to 13,200 feet, nearly 2,000 vertical feet. The trail is host to several challenging sections, including small scrambles over areas damaged by sliding boulders on the extremely steep slopes of Argentine Peak.
Give yourself a few hours to ascend the trail to Argentine Pass. Carry at least a liter of water on a cool day, more if the day is hot. Pack a windbreaker and fleece to prepare for high winds and chilly breezes near the ridge.
The path through the Peru Creek Valley is lush with fields of wildflowers. In mid-summer, blue columbine, paintbrush, groundsel, arrowleaf balsamroot, mouse ear, figwort and penstemon are abundant. In the high-alpine stretch of the trail, pale blue sky pilot, pink moss campion and yellow Old-Man-of-the-Mountain cover the gravel beside the trail.
From the top of the pass, Mount Edwards (13,850) rises north along the ridge. West of the pass, Grays Peak (14,270 feet) forms the west face of Horseshoe Basin, with Ruby Mountain (13,277 feet) and Cooper Mountain (12,792) lining the path of the lower Peru Creek Valley to the base of Peru Creek Road. East of Argentine Pass, a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive road continues down through the Leavenworth Creek watershed.
How to get there
The Argentine Pass Trailhead is about 16 miles from Silverthorne and east of Keystone. From the Interstate 70 interchange in Silverthorne, drive east on U.S. Highway 6 to Keystone and exit to Montezuma Road. Drive 4 miles, crossing a bridge, and take a left turn on Peru Creek Road (U.S. Forest Service Road 260). Although the road is rough with erosion and water diversion berms, low-clearance vehicles can reach the junction with Cinnamon Gulch Road, 4 miles up Peru Creek watershed. Park here for a look at the Pennsylvania Mine Ruins, or continue another half-mile to the parking area for Argentine Pass. Hike a bit farther on the road above the ruins of the Shoe Basin Mine to find the Argentine Pass trailhead. The trail drops to Peru Creek from the road and continues up Argentine Peak to the Continental Divide.
Map: “Trails Illustrated,” Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Loveland Pass, 104. Latitude 40°, Summit County Colorado Trails.
Author Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes, “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties” and “Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness,” available from Amazon Kindle Books.
Hiking Guide: Explosive views on the Lenawee TrailSeptember 5, 2015 —
The Lenawee Trail offers a glimpse of fall colors as it ascends through groves of young aspen regenerating in the constant upheaval of avalanche flows down the steep slopes of Lenawee Mountain (13,204 feet). About 1.5 miles up the trail at 11,500 feet of elevation, near tree-line, the Lenawee Trail offers expansive views of the area. From the upper trail, Dillon Reservoir of the Gore Range and the Ten-Mile Range lie in the distance west of the Snake River Valley. The ridgeline of Lenawee Mountain from 12,550 feet to 13,200 feet overlooks Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Loveland Pass on the Continental Divide.
Immediately west of Lenawee Mountain is the ridge of Porcupine Peak (11,803 feet) that forms the wall of Montezuma Bowl. Grizzly Peak (13,427 feet) forms the north portion of the East Wall beyond the Lenawee Mountain chutes at Arapahoe Basin. Directly north of Lenawee Mountain, Highway 6 ascends on sharp switchbacks to Loveland Pass (11,980 feet). East of Lenawee Mountain, and out-of-sight unless you climb to the summit, are the 14er twins Grays Peak (14,267 feet), the southern mountain, and Torreys Peak (14,270 feet), across the saddle to the north.
The Lenawee Trail is a challenging five-hour intermediate hike of 8 miles. The trail has an elevation gain of 2,200 feet from the trailhead at 10,370 feet to Lenawee Mountain ridge at 12,570 feet. Of course, you can split the distance and still enjoy passing through a thicket of young aspen saplings and a rocky overlook 1.5 miles into the hike.
The area is general forest lands, open to a variety of recreation. Wildlife is abundant and includes moose, marmot, coyote and mule deer. The area is frequented by dog walkers, mountain bikers, dispersed campers and hunters during the fall season.
The challenging terrain and dramatic changes in the weather of Summit County should be respected. Since a colleague of mine volunteers with the Summit County Search and Rescue group and spends almost every free day of summer on a rescue or recovery mission, I will reiterate the gear that I carry on any day hike.
In cool weather on an intermediate hike through dry forest and tundra that has no natural source of flowing water during most of the year, I carry at least one liter of water. In my pockets, I have adhesive bandages, cell phone, Victorinox knife and a few tissues. In my day pack, I carry a fire starter, two headlamps, extra batteries, fleece, windbreaker, trail snacks such as nuts or cheese, sunglasses, reading glasses and a global positioning system, regardless of how well I know an area or how far I intend to hike. Even on hikes in the center of cities, I have needed to use my headlamp, adhesive bandages and my pocket knife.
How to Get There
The Lenawee Trailhead is about 15 miles from Silverthorne, east of Keystone. From the I-70 interchange in Silverthorne, you will drive east on Highway 6 to Keystone and exit to Montezuma Road. Drive about 5 miles, crossing a bridge over the Snake River, and take a left turn on Peru Creek Road, Forest Service Road 260. Although the gravel road is rough and dips at water diversion berms, low-clearance vehicles can reach the trailhead 2 miles up Peru Creek watershed. The trailhead is clearly marked and small pull-outs offer parking along the south side of Peru Creek Road. The trail ascends the slope north of the road.
The Peru Creek watershed is part of the Argentine mining district, named after the Latin word argentum, meaning silver. Beyond the Lenawee Trailhead, you can explore historic mining ruins of the Argentine mining district, including buildings associated with the Pennsylvania Mine and the degraded route of the failed Argentine Central Railway that was constructed beginning in 1905 to serve mining claims owned by Edward J. Wilcox. The Panic of 1907 brought a recession and the collapse of the silver market, bringing a close to the mining in the Argentine area.
Map: Trails Illustrated, Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Loveland Pass, 104. Latitude 40°, Summit County Colorado Trails.
Author Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties; and Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness, available from Amazon Kindle Books.
Colorado Wildflower Hiking Guide to Summit County, ColoradoJuly 11, 2015 —
Jane Hendrix is a friend of the flowers. Her knowledge of plants in Summit County and beyond is extensive, and her commitment to the well-being of the wildflowers is one of true affection.
“When I first started learning the wildflowers, I noticed the big, showy wildflowers, and I didn’t notice the little ones,” she said. “But now, my favorite wildflower is the next one I see.”
Hendrix founded Mountain View Experimental Gardens in 1995 at her home in Breckenridge to pursue her hobby more deeply and to provide something that she and the public could enjoy. With more than 1,000 species in the gardens (not all native), she has tested flowering plants to see what can grow with very little or no care up here in the mountains. The garden has become self-sustaining, with perennials that come back year after year.
“I don’t follow any books,” she said. “I have read many books and have done my own experimentation, and I have booklets for sale that cover individual aspects of the garden.”
For those who are even slightly as curious as Hendrix about all the colorful blooms of the Colorado High Country, she has provided an extensive list, and intricate photos, of some of what you’ll see gracing gardens, trails and roadsides this summer:
What’s what in wildflowers
Hendrix provided the following wildflower descriptions.
• Colorado columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) — This is our official state flower. It has a three-parted, ferny leaf and stands between two and three feet in bloom. It likes to grow in fertile, slightly moist soil in semi-shaded areas such as aspen groves. It is found from the montane to the subalpine zone.
• Tall chiming bells (Mertensia ciliata) — This is a large, leafy plant, up to three feet tall, bearing clusters of pendant, sky-blue bells. Sometimes the bells are pink or pink and blue bicolored. Rarely, you may find a white-flowering plant. Tall chiming bells are very common in wetlands or along streams up to and including the subalpine zone.
• Subalpine larkspur (Delphinium barbeyi) — This large, stately plant produces lobed, maple-like leaves that resemble those of the garden delphinium. Subalpine larkspur may attain a height up to six feet tall, sporting spikes of small, dark-blue, spurred flowers held well above the foliage. It is a common species in high-altitude wetlands and moist meadows.
• Indian paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) — Whether in forest or field, the bright red petal-like bracts (modified leaves) of Indian paintbrush always catch the eye of the hiker. In our area, the plants are usually eight to 12 inches tall and, while intense, fire engine red is the usual color; pale red and even peach-colored plants may occasionally be discovered.
• Elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica) — Above a skirt of ferny leaves stand tall spikes of small, pink flowers that resemble elephant heads, complete with large ears and a trunk. Elephant’s head is between eight and 14 inches tall and is found in wetlands and along streams from the montane to the alpine zones.
• Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) — The unusual monkshood flowers are dark purple (rarely, white). The top part is shaped like the hood of a monk and covers the bottom part. People delight in manipulating the little hood as the bees do. However, all parts of this plant are extremely poisonous, and some people will have an allergic reaction to contact with the flowers or leaves. Children should not handle this plant. It is found in wetlands and along streams from montane to alpine zones.
• Silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus) — This native flowering plant is usually only 12 to 18 inches tall. Above its attractive, palmate leaves rise spikes of blue and white, pea-like flowers which later become seed pods that resemble garden peas. But don’t be tempted to nibble those pods or seeds. They are poisonous. Silvery lupine can be found along roads, in open meadows and in lodgepole pine forests. It is most common in montane to lower subalpine zone.
• Old man of the mountain (Hymenoxys grandiflora) — Most alpine flowers hug the ground for warmth and to avoid being battered by high winds. But old man of the mountain isn’t afraid to stand tall on that treeless expanse and show off its large, joyful sunflowers that rise up to eight inches above its finely divided foliage. Its tall stature in a land of mats and buns gives old man of the mountain the appearance of a sentinel watching over its dwarfed neighbors.
• Purple fringe (Phacelia sericea) — Purple fringe has deeply lobed, grayish-green foliage that may cause dermatitis in some people upon handling the plant, especially the leaves. The large, showy flower spikes sport deep purple flowers with golden stamens protruding from each bloom. It can be as short as four inches in the alpine zone to 18 inches at lower elevations. Look for purple fringe in dry, sunny areas.
• Alpine forget-me-not (Eritrichium nanum) — Alpine forget-me-not is the quintessential alpine wildflower. Its tight mat is only an inch high and, in late June to early July, it is smothered with intensely blue, five-petaled flowers with a white-ringed yellow eye. The flower color can vary from dark blue to white. Look for alpine forget-me-not in dry, sunny alpine areas, especially on rocky slopes.
• Sky pilot (Polemonium viscosum) — Sky pilot is a close relative of garden Jacob’s ladder but they hardly look like “cousins.” Sky pilot’s foliage is made of tiny, crowded leaflets that give the plant a ferny look. The leaves have a skunky odor when handled or crushed underfoot. Clusters of large, pendant, dark-blue bells rise above the foliage, giving the plant a total height of six to 10 inches. Sky pilot likes dry, sunny meadows and rocky slopes in the alpine zone.
Find the flowers
“The best place is Shrine Ridge, which is on the border of Summit and Eagle counties,” said Maryann Gaug, author of “Hiking Colorado’s Summit County Area,” and “Best Hikes Near Breckenridge and Vail.” “They’re typically good in mid-July.”
Gaug shared another favorite: Lower Cataract lake outside of Heeney in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness.
“The columbines are in full bloom right now,” she said. “Typically towards the end of June is best there. In the fall, the aspens are gorgeous, with each side of the lake changing at slightly different times.”
The first mile and a half of Acorn Creek, north of Silverthorne, has a variety of flowers, and Mohawk Lakes Trail near Breckenridge has some wonderful rock gardens of flowers once you reach the old mining cabins and beyond, Gaug said.
She also recommended Wilder Gulch (just south of Shrine Ridge) and McCullough Gulch south of Breckenridge.
“Sometimes, the great flowers might be a two- to three-mile hike to higher terrain,” Gaug said. “Lodgepole forests typically don’t have a wealth of wildflowers. Aspen forests have a few more, especially Colorado columbine and wood’s rose.”
You don’t always have to go very far to find the flowers. The easy-to-access dirt road on the Dillon Peninsula has a lot of wildflowers in the sagebrush meadows, according to Gaug, and Hendrix said most all of the hikes are great for enjoying the wildflowers.
“You can even do a ‘hike’ along the highway and ‘bag’ several dozen blooming wildflower species,” Hendrix said. She recommended looking at individual trail descriptions from the White River National Forest in Summit County, at www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/summer_trail_list.htm.