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Boulder’s Best Wildflower Hikes

and Wildflower Identification Guide

As snow melts from higher elevations and the days get warmer, Boulder’s delicate wildflowers lift their faces to the spring sunshine. Then all through summer and even into early fall, wildflowers continue to bloom in seasonal waves across Boulder’s hillsides, valleys and forest floors.

In an average year in Boulder, the very first flowers start to appear in late March, swell to a tidal wave in April and May, and last through the end of October.

You can admire a sprinkling of flowers on most of Boulder hiking trails. To help you find the best ones, we have put together a list of the top wildflower hikes in Boulder, plus a Boulder wildflower identification guide for common flowers you may see along the way.

Please remember your Mountain Manners, and check in advance for trail closures.

Wildflower Hike in Boulder

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Let Them Grow

“Flowers have powers when left on their towers.” When left alone, flowers influence the local ecosystem all year-round, but will only last a few days in a vase. Please don’t rob Colorful Colorado of its colors!

Mesa Trail

The Mesa Trail runs along the base of Boulder’s foothills and mountains (with views all along the way) and connects several of Boulder’s major trail systems. That means there are several spots to pick up the trail, and lots of options for getting sidetracked if you spot a trail of blooms. We suggest you start at the South Mesa Trailhead, where a dusting of wildflowers are available right from the start. You’ll have a chance to see Western spring beauty (early spring), wild iris (spring), mariposa lily, perennial sweetpea and wild geranium (summer), and crested prickly poppy (spring and summer) and many more.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 6.7 miles one way
Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed or under voice or sight control (see regulations)
Trail Map
Where to Park (Fee for non-residents)


North and South Fork Shanahan Ridge Trails

From the access point at Lehigh and Lafayette streets, take the North Fork Shanahan Ridge Trail. Once you’ve done a bit of climbing, you’ll find yourself under the cover of towering ponderosa pines and will start to see lots of bright purple-blue penstemon (summer), as well as harebells (summer and late summer) and golden banner (spring and summer). This delightfully shady hike connects with the Mesa Trail. From here, you can take it south to the South Fork Shanahan Ridge which eventually ends with more open, prairie-like terrain, with Oregon grape (spring), pasque flower (spring) and more.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3.4 miles round trip
Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed or under voice or sight control (see regulations)
Trail Map
Where to Park (No fee)

Wildflowers along Shanahan Ridge Trail



Goshawk Ridge Trail

Goshawk Ridge is a little-known gem that is extraordinary for its constant variety of blooms through the seasons. It will take some mileage to get to this trail (start at Dowdy Draw and then Spring Brook Loop North or South to get there), but it’s well worth it, and the entire journey is delightful. We recommend hiking this once every two weeks starting in mid-April all the way through early July to watch the constantly changing mix of flowers. Much of the hike is in a pristine Habitat Conservation Area, and there are a couple of meadows bursting with bee balm (wild bergamot) that bloom in late June and early July. You’ll also have a chance to spot the rare, upside-down vase-shaped sugar bowls (summer), pasque flowers (spring) and wild irises (spring). 

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.4 miles one way (this includes Dowdy Draw and Spring Brook North)
Dogs allowed: No
Trail Map
Where to Park (Fee for non-residents)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Ranger Trail

With tall pines above and rust-red earth beneath your feet, this fragrant trail is easy to get to but feels like you’ve escape deep into the woods. After only five minutes or so of hiking, you’ll come upon a clearing just before you reach the historic Green Mountain Lodge. Here dozens of butterflies drink the nectar of wild bergamot (summer) among a pair of picnic tables for resting. Continue on and you’ll head back into the cool forest, where Canada violet (spring, summer), Colorado columbine (summer), larkspur (summer and late summer), wood rose (summer) and more blossom. This trail gets quite steep after about a half mile, with dramatic views rising behind you. Eventually, you can intersect with Green Mountain West Ridge Trail, which leads you to summit Green Mountain — no small feat, to be sure.

Difficulty: Difficult (but the first quarter mile is very easy and filled with flowers)
Distance: 1.2 miles one way
Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed or under voice or sight control (see regulations)
Trail Map
Where to Park (Fee for non-residents)

Trees growing along Ranger Trail



Gregory Canyon

Begin in the shady canyon beside Gregory Canyon Creek before hitting a steeper, rockier climb with several switchbacks and crossing a ridge with beautiful panoramas (yes, this trail is relatively short, but has 900 feet in elevation gain). The varied landscape is habitat for a huge range of flowers including Oregon grape (spring), pasque flowers (spring), tiny blue-eyed Mary (spring, summer), evening primrose (summer and late summer), lance-leaved chiming bells (spring) and many more. You’ll end at Realization Point at the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. From here, you can connect with another network of trails (including Ranger Trail, above) if you’re not ready to head back down.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 1.1 miles one way
Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed or under voice or sight control (see regulations)
Trail Map
Where to Park (Fee for non-residents)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by helen leigh (@helenleigh_) on

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Get Muddy

Get muddy! Remember to stay on trail, even when it’s muddy. Stepping off trail creates erosion and widens the trail into natural habitat.

Boulder Wildflower Identification

Rather than appearing in dense fields of blooms, Boulder’s wildflowers are often scattered here and there across the landscape. This makes finding them and identifying them part of the fun. Here are a few photos to help.

Arnica

Arnica flower

Blanketflower

Blanketflower

Blazing Star

Blazing star flower

Blue Flax

Blue Flax Flower

Canada Violet

Canadian Violet Flower

Colorado Columbine

Colorado Columbine Flower

Common Bugloss

Common Bugloss

Crested Prickly Poppy

Crested Prickly Poppy

Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose

Field Mouse-ear

Field Mouse-Ear Flower

Golden Banner

Golden Banner Flower

Harebell

Harebell Flower

Lance-Leaved Chiming Bells

Lance-Leaved Chiming Bells Flower

Larkspur

Larkspur Flower

Leafy Cinquefoil

Leafy Cinquefoil Flower

Lupine

Lupine Flower

Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

Milkweed

Milkweed Flower

Paintbrush

Paintbrush Flower

Pasque Flower

Pasque Flower

Penstemon

Penstemon Flower

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear Flower

Sand Lily

Sand Lily Flower

Spring beauty

Spring Beauty Flower

Stonecrop

Stonecrop Flower

Sugar Bowls

Sugarbowl Clemitis Flower

Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea Flower

Western Wallflower

Western Wallflower

Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot Flower

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium Flower

Wild Iris

Wild Iris Flower

Wood Rose

Wood Rose

Yarrow

Yarrow Flower


Boulder Wildflower Brochures & Resources

Wildflower Identification Apps & Sites

  • Google Lens – This is both a standalone app and a free function of the Google Photos app. Take any photo, open it in the Google Photos gallery, then click on the Google Lens icon and it will launch a search that matches your photo to similar photos online.
  • Picture This – We’ve had good luck with accuracy and ease of use on this app.
  • Colorado Wildflowers Guide – The app is for iOS only. You can find flowers by photo recognition or search by flower color, time of bloom and location.
  • Eastern Colorado Wildflowers – The search functionality is great for finding what you're looking for.
  • Wildflowers of Colorado – Sort by color and enjoy the lovely photography.