Where to spot wildflowers in Summit County | SummitDaily.com
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Where to spot wildflowers in Summit County

Photos: Alpine plants to look for this summer

Globe Gilia is a wildflower found along the Continental Divide between Summit and Park County.
Photo by Stan Wagon

Wildflowers have sprung up around the county, and local plant enthusiasts are saying the combination of warm weather and recent rainfall has led to an especially bountiful bloom this summer.

“I have a wildflower group I go out with. … Everyone has been saying this whole summer, ‘This is the most I’ve ever seen,’ ‘This is the tallest I’ve ever seen,’ ‘This is the densest I’ve ever seen,’ it really is true,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, one of the authors of the Summit Daily News community column Get Wild.

Some local wildflowers are tiny and often overlooked because the details can only be seen when looking closely, Stiegelmeier said. For example, she described the fringed grass of Parnassus, which is a white, five-petaled flower. Up close, the flower appears to have a lace border.



Stan Wagon, a Silverthorne resident who has shared dozens of photos of local wildflowers on his website, StanWagon.com, explained that the Breckenridge area breeds wildflowers that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Ipomopsis globularis, known as globe gilia, only grows at high elevations near the border of Summit and Park counties.

Early start

Wildflowers have bloomed early this year, Stiegelmeier said. Fireweed, a pink, native flower, is exploding in Summit County right now, but usually doesn’t bloom until the end of the summer. She said she has also spotted gentians, which are another type of flower that usually waits until the end of summer to bloom. Stiegelmeier said these early blooms are likely due to the heat Summit County has experienced this season.



A late summer flower Wagon said to start keeping an eye out for is Arctic gentian, a small white and gray flower that comes out in mid-August.

Where to spot wildflowers

Stiegelmeier said the two best places for spotting wildflowers in bloom this summer are in high Alpine areas between 12,000 and 14,000 feet now that the snow has melted, and anywhere where there’s water, such as along a creek or a gulch. Specifically, Stiegelmeier said the elephant’s head is a classic flower that people find in wet areas. The flower is unique because, up close, the pink flowers of the plant look like an elephant’s head — and Stiegelmeier said anyone who has seen one will never forget it.

Bog orchids are typically found in green and white next to elephant’s head flowers, and Wagon said there are about eight types of orchids found in Summit County.

Wagon said some of the best places to spot wildflowers are along ridges leading out of Hoosier Pass and Loveland Pass, as well as along Black Powder Pass, a short trail off of Boreas Pass.

“There’s nothing at Hoosier Pass, but you park there and you go a mile up to the east, and it’s just fantastic,” Wagon said. “Vail Pass is not that high, so you’ll see the standard stuff. … There’s old man of the mountains and paintbrush and lots of others that grow in the big meadows.”

Monkeyflowers and globe gilia can be found on Hoosier Ridge. Golden saxifrage, whiplash saxifrage and nodding saxifrage — somewhat rare flowers — grow above treeline and can be found on Loveland Pass and Hoosier Pass.

“Any mountain valley, the places everybody goes — McCullough Gulch, Spruce Creek south of Breck, Mayflower Gulch — all these valleys have great flowers and they’re very popular for a reason,” Wagon said.


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