Five Summit County hikes for colorful wildflowers in peak season
Summer has come to Summit County and with it warm temperatures, sapphire blue skies and buckets of that famous Colorado sunshine. One of the best ways to explore the High Country is on foot, and fortunately there are hundreds of miles of trails throughout the county to explore. This is peak season for wildflowers, meaning it’s the perfect time to hike through aspen glades and meadows flush with wildflowers to viewpoints with expansive vistas, brilliant colors and gorgeous landscapes. Below are the top five places to get both views and wildflowers this month.
Hike 1: The Hidden Treasure Trove of Saw Mill Creek, Breckenridge
The short length, insignificant elevation gain and proximity to the town of Breckenridge makes the Saw Mill Creek hike perfect for families with young children. Starting near the bottom of the Saw Mill Chairlift, the trail leads hikers down a shady ravine with a creek running through it. The high rocky walls protect hikers from the insistent summer sun and offer a refuge to plants and wildlife, including plenty of wildflowers.
Children can touch, smell and experience nature along the trail, from the babbling creek to pungent pine needles. Small animal burrows and shy, shade-loving wildflowers can be found along the path. Mushrooms will make an appearance in August. Small bridges take hikers back and forth across the creek. Eventually, wooden stairs lead up a hillside to the shore of a shallow lake — just the right place for a splash in the shallows and a sunny afternoon picnic. The hike is less than a mile and is rated as easy.
Hike 2: Wildlife and wildflowers at Wheeler Lakes, Copper Mountain
Still a family hike, although a littler higher and tougher than Saw Mill Creek, the trail from Copper Mountain Resort to the Wheeler Lakes has it all — plants, animals and stunning views.
The hike features areas thick with trees, including aspen and pines. These gradually give way to open meadows full of wildflowers.
Wheeler Lakes trail has plenty of elevation gain and terrain change, allowing for a variety of wildflowers. Right now, there should be numerous patches of Columbines in bloom. Along with flowers, there is a population of black-and-gold tiger salamanders that live along the shallows of Wheeler Lakes. This trail is 6.4 miles round trip and is rated as moderate to more difficult.
Hike 3: Mountain range discovery over Uneva Pass, Copper Mountain
For those who don’t want to stop at the Wheeler Lakes, the trail continues from Copper Mountain all the way to Frisco via the top of the Tenmile Range and Uneva Pass.
After the Wheeler lakes, before reaching Uneva Pass, is another lake known as Lost Lake. Despite its proximity to the trail, it’s nearly completely hidden by a tall berm.
The trail features fabulous alpine lakes that have cliffs on their far ends. The lakes are right off the trail, but can be tricky to spot. The high point on this trail is 11,900 feet with stupendous views. Hikers stay on top of the Tenmile Range for a while, then descend to meet the North Tenmile Trail, which lets out at the westernmost part of Frisco Main Street. Here plenty of Lupine can be seen, as well as Indian paintbrush. This trail is 11.5 miles one way and is rated as more difficult. Two cars are recommended to arrange a shuttle.
Hike 4: Flower heaven at Upper Straight Creek, Eisenhower Tunnels
Upper Straight Creek has been referred to as ‘flower valley’ and July is the best month to view flowers here. This hike is incredible for sub-alpine wildflowers, as you are tucked below the Continental Divide when hiking through this flowery oasis. According to guide books, the flowers seen here are flowers you’d never see down in an aspen forest or in a valley. Flowers to look out for here include, elephant head, purple penstamen and Indian paintbrush, king’s crown, and white bog orchid. The higher you hike on this trail the more true alpine flowers start to appear, including sky pilot, alpine kitten tail and dwarf columbine. This trail reaches its peak at 12,400 feet and is rated as moderate to more difficult. It’s 4 miles round trip and can be accessed off of I-70 8 miles from Silverthorne.
Hike 5: Cascading water at South Willow Falls, Silverthorne
South Willow Falls is a relaxed hike that children will enjoy, with opportunity to see columbine — Colorado’s state flower — in early July. The scenery varies between open meadows and closed-in stretches through trees and a gulch. Turning around offers great views of the Continental Divide and Lake Dillon throughout. The area is also rich in mining history. Once hikers reach the waterfall, they should take some time to relax and enjoy the location. There are plenty of rocks to relax on by the water. Look for alpine avens, columbine, alpine sandwort, small penstemon, wild rose bushes and more along the South Willow Falls trail. This trail is roughly 9 miles round trip and is rated as moderate.
This story originally published July 6, 2017, on summitdaily.com. It appeared in the Explore Summit 2018 summer magazine.
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