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Colorado Wildflowers You’ll See in Vail

When the weather warms, the high-alpine meadows around Vail blossom with a rainbow of colorful Colorado wildflowers. Discover where and when to experience these stunning blooms and the best ways to appreciate them.

Yellow, red, and white flowers bloom brilliantly in a lush meadow on Vail Mountain in Colorado.
A variety of wildflowers bloom in a meadow on Vail Mountain. Photo courtesy of Vail Nature Center.

When is the best time to see wildflowers in Vail?

Just like Vail’s après and ski seasons, the time for wildflower viewing depends on the snow. Flowers only begin popping up after the snow melts — typically in late spring — and the petal show continues until late summer or early fall.

In May, the first budding blooms can usually be seen on the mountain, and by mid- to late June, you can expect plenty of beautiful blossoms all around the villages.

July is peak wildflower season when eye-catching patches of colors, like vibrant magenta, soft purple, burnt orange and delicate pink, can be found wherever you go. The treasured season winds down by mid-August with the exception of autumn-bloomers, like cheerful aster and sunny goldenrod.

Three children and two adults trek up a mountain hillside near Vail, Colorado. The hillside is filled with yellow and red wildflowers.

Best Wildflower Hikes in Colorado Right Here in Vail

1. Shrine Ridge Trail

This 4.4-mile out-and-back trail features some steep sections and leads through pine woods and lush alpine meadows that fill with wildflowers by mid- to late summer. Be sure to bring your camera for a picture of brightly colored petals against the backdrop of towering Rocky Mountain peaks, like Mount of the Holy Cross. NOTE: Trail has a wildlife closer through late June. Please respect all closures.

2. Gore Creek Trail

Advanced hikers will relish the challenging climbs and high-mountain scenery as they tramp along this 14-mile in-and-out path. As you hike beside Gore Creek, through sun-lit fields and beneath aspen stands, you’re sure to see a wide range of breathtaking Colorado wildflowers.

3. Betty Ford Alpine Center

While you won’t get a serious workout navigating the paved paths at Betty Ford Alpine Center, you’ll find an abundance of Rockies flora. As the weather heats up, stop by to see the parade of gorgeous petals like the white-and-blue columbine — also Colorado’s state flower. Plus, see flowering plants from other mountain regions around the world.

4. Vail Nature Center

In addition to their large variety of blossoms, the Vail Nature Center also offers an extended wildflower season into August — perfect for those taking an end-of-summer Vailcation. Plan a midweek trip and take advantage of their free, guided wildflower walks throughout the season on Mondays through Thursdays.

Near Vail, Colorado, in a mountain meadow lined by tall pine trees, dozens of vibrant wildflowers bloom and soak in the sunlight.
A variety of wildflowers bloom in a field near the Vail Nature Center in mid-summer. Photo courtesy of Vail Nature Center.

Colorado Wildflowers You Can Find Near Vail

What makes Vail one of the best places for wildflower hikes in Colorado is the area’s incredible diversity. The Vail Valley is home to hundreds of wildflower species, so you never know what you’ll see on your treks. A few of the local blossoms you may encounter include Colorado columbine, scarlet paintbrush, lupine, woods rose, heartleaf arnica, Rocky Mountain penstemon, scarlet gilia, cow parsnip, mariposa lily and fireweed.

Vail is also home to the rare Harrington’s Penstemon flower — only found in six Colorado counties and nowhere else in the world. Luckily, most of these stunning blooms occur in Vail’s own Eagle County — so be sure to keep an eye out for this particular beauty.

Pro Tip: Try looking for the Harrington’s Penstemon’s trumpet-like shape and five rounded petals.

Harrington’s Penstemon

The pink-purple petals of the rare Harrington's Penstemon flower show off their colors in groups on a vine in Vail, Colorado.
Harrington’s Penstemons. Courtesy of Hannah Rumble.

Woods Rose

A pink petaled woods rose flower grows in a shady spot in the mountains near Vail, Colorado.
Woods roses. Photo courtesy of Chris Cohen.

Rosy Paintbrush

A vibrant magenta-colored paintbrush wildflower slowly opens up its layered petals in a field near Vail, Colorado.
A rosy paintbrush. Photo courtesy of Vail Nature Center.

Mariposa Lily

White mariposa lilies open up to expose their yellow inside near Vail, Colorado.
Mariposa lilies. Photo courtesy of Vail Nature Center.

Lupine

A patch of blue, bell-shaped lupine wildflowers grow on the sun-bleached stump of a fallen tree near Vail, Colorado.
Lupine. Photo courtesy of Vail Nature Center.

Common Harebell

Beautiful, purple-hued flowers with a bell shape, called common harebell, grow in dappled sunlight on Vail Mountain in Colorado.
Common harebells. Photo courtesy of Vail Nature Center.

How to Identify Different Wildflowers

With so many types of wildflowers in Vail, it can be helpful to bring along a flower field guidebook for assistance identifying them. Guides can be organized in many ways, including region of the state or by elevation, so think about how you prefer looking up wildflowers.

Become better at spotting Vail’s flora by choosing a few Colorado wildflowers — possibly in the same flower family — to familiarize yourself with before you go. As you hike, it can be easier to find these specific plants.

Another option is to take plenty of photos from different angles, including the petals, leaves and stem. When you return to your lodging, use the internet to help identify the flowers from your hike. Or, try a wildflower identification tool, like the Betty Ford Alpine Garden’s Alpine Wildflower app, which was created especially for the local area.

A group, including children hike through a think stand of aspen trees with blue columbine wildflowers dotting the ground below them.

Colorado Wildflower-Viewing Best Practices

1. While they may be tempting souvenirs, it’s important not to pick wildflowers. This leaves them for others to enjoy and ensures the blooms will return the following spring, as seeds are released when the flowers wither.

2. Stay on the trails to avoid trampling fragile native species.

3. There isn’t a trail in Vail that will disappoint, so be sure to choose paths that match your level of fitness and mind signs for wildlife closures, especially early in the season.

4. Higher elevations mean more sun exposure, so be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat while out viewing the flowers.

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