Do snow showers bring wildflowers? It would seem so! It’s been a particularly wild spring here in Boulder. It feels as though we’ve experienced every kind of weather imaginable. And while snow lingered late into the season, our open space is suddenly bursting with spectacularly beautiful wildflowers.
Wildflower season in Boulder typically runs from about March to August, with different species of flowers blooming at different times. Oregon grape and pasqueflower are among the first to be seen, occasionally as early as February, while aster and blazing stars are some of the last to pop up in July. Month after month, there is always something new to see. That’s the beauty of wildflower season!
Wildflowers can be seen from every trail in Boulder, but some trails have a greater abundance and diversity than others. This is your guide to the absolute best and most brilliant wildflower hikes in town. Now is a great time to check them out, as we are nearing the season’s peak. Boulder’s wonderful wildflowers await!
Please note that collecting wildflowers in Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks is strictly prohibited. Be sure to adhere to Leave No Trace ethics – leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos, kill nothing but time.
Shanahan Ridge – Big Bluestem Loop (5 miles)
This moderate South Boulder loop winds through a peaceful ponderosa pine forest with dramatic glimpses of Bear Peak and Devil’s Thumb. On summer days, the trails are sparkling with dappled sunlight and lined with colorful native blooms. From pasqueflowers to chiming bells to western wallflowers, this loop likes to show off.
Begin at the Shanahan Ridge Access Point and take the north fork of Shanahan. In 1.3 miles, it ends at a “T” with Mesa Trail. Turn left (south) and take Mesa for nearly one mile to the junction with Upper Big Bluestem. Turn left (east) on Upper Big Bluestem for 0.7 miles to the Bluestem Connector. Turn left once again and return to the Shanahan Ridge Access point to complete the loop.
Gregory Canyon (1.3 miles one-way)
This popular trail, located on the south-facing slope of Gregory Canyon, receives both ample sun and moisture. That’s a winning combination for wildflower diversity. It’s a little bit of a lung buster, with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain, so be prepared. Fortunately, you can choose your own adventure here. Hike however much you want as an out-and-back or connect it with nearby trails for a longer adventure.
Begin at Gregory Canyon Trailhead. The trail starts at the west end of the parking lot and climbs rather steadily with a few short flats and switchbacks. This is also a great area for birding. Keep your eyes peeled for the striking red and yellow Western Tanager. At the trail’s end near Realization Point, you have a few options. You can take Ranger Trail to summit Green Mountain, take the Ute and Flagstaff Trails back down for a change of scenery, or simply turn around and return to the trailhead as you came.
Goshawk Ridge and Fowler Loop (4.2 miles)
Goshawk Ridge is a relatively new trail, completed in 2009, and still something of a hidden gem. Not only is it home to an incredible array of wildflowers, but it boasts a number of unique geological and cultural features. This moderate hike is one to be savored. Unfortunately, you’ll have to leave your pooch at home, as dogs are not permitted here.
Begin at Eldorado Mountain Trailhead/Fowler Trail Access Point, located at the end of County Road 67. This is a little used trailhead but parking is extremely limited, so it’s best to avoid potential peak times. Start hiking along Fowler Trail as it climbs the ridge and meets with the Goshawk Ridge Loop. Take the loop counterclockwise as it weaves through forest and meadow. You’ll be looking down at wildflowers but don’t forget to also look up at the stunning views of Eldorado Canyon. Continue on the loop (do not veer onto Spring Brook Trail unless you want a much longer hike) as it reconnects with Fowler and ultimately returns to the trailhead.
Mesa Trail (6.9 miles)
Mesa Trail is essentially the backbone of Boulder’s western open space. It runs for nearly 7 miles from south to north as it connects three major trail hubs: South Mesa, NCAR, and Chautauqua Trailheads. Rather than winding up peaks, it simply meanders just east of their rise. Even still, it gains and loses a fair amount of elevation as it rolls up and down through forest, meadow, and riparian zones.
To hike the entire length of the Mesa Trail is a day well spent, but hiking it in sections is equally rewarding. If wildflower spotting is your goal, begin at South Mesa Trailhead. You’ll be amazed at the variety of blooms within the first mile alone. After that, the rest is up to you. Make it a one-way hike to NCAR or Chautauqua (you’ll need to arrange a ride at the other end) or go as far as you wish and turn around to make it an out-and-back.
Happy wildflower season and happy trails, Boulderites!