My Favorite Wildflower Hikes near Winter Park, Colorado
Summer in Colorado is wildflower time in the high country. And while the southern areas of the state receive most of the attention – and rightly so – there are still some beautiful areas found closer to my home in the north. I’ve been hiking trails around Winter Park in Grand County for 30+ years, and the wildflowers each summer can be pretty amazing. From my experiences, here are some of the best areas to explore in no particular order.
Yes, the 14-mile 4WD road that branches off from Hwy 40 near the ski base is a grind starting about five to seven miles in. After that, hang on! But at the end of the road where a dirt parking lot awaits, the continental divide trail (CDT) heads north. Only about a half-mile along the CDT from the parking lot, the blue waters of King Lake come into view far below the trail. Icebergs float around in the shadowy areas well into late summer, but in late June and early July, golden wildflowers known as “Old Man of the Mountain” add a splash of color to the slopes along this path. This image was taken on July 3 several years ago at sunrise:
The CDT continues uphill, but another trail heads down to the lake. Follow the lower trail further past the lake to an unseen stream and marsh marigolds abound.
Yes, it is an early wake-up call if you want to shoot at first light, but this is a fantastic view any time of day. Just make sure your car and tires and your lungs can handle it (you'll be on rocky roads about 10,000' in elevation). I once experienced a flat in my wife’s Subaru at around the 13-mile mark and it wasn’t a fun experience.
First and Second Creek
From pull-outs along Highway 40 between Berthoud Pass and Winter Park, well-worn trails head west and following these two streams up the mountains to lofty views high above treeline. The trails are steep, but easy to walk and clearly defined. Along these trails, I’ve seen pink Parry’s Primrose, marsh marigolds, purple asters, and more.
And the views across the valley are beautiful at sunrise, sunset, or any time of day. The parking areas do fill up on weekends pretty early, as well.
Further up Highway 40 heading to the top of Berthoud Pass, a little-used pullout provides access to one of my favorite areas – the trail that runs alongside Current Creek. Wildflowers line this creek in July and August, and pine trees provide shade for afternoon hikes. I prefer to make this hike well before sunrise, however, to reach a meadow higher up. About a mile into the steep trail, the path reaches a drainage ditch. Head left until the path crosses the water and again turns up a small trail that follows Current Creek as the waters cascade down on your left. Another ten minutes walking and the path heads into a boulder field. Turn left and follow the open grassy area into the meadow. Warning – this will be a swampy area and your feet will get soaked. If you backtrack from the boulder field, there are ways to cross the creek without getting completely soaked, but that’s up to you! The goal is to cross the stream to regain the trail. When you’ve crossed, you’ll likely see where Current Creek splashes down between huge boulders. Later in July and early August, these rocks are mostly hidden by the greenery and wildflowers.
Here, bluebell, larkspur, asters, groundsel, and many other varieties of wildflowers conceal the creek in an explosion of color as the flowing and cold water washes down from high above.
Even further up the trail is a small alpine lake that is also worth exploring. This trail is a good workout with rewarding views all the way to this lake.
About a fifteen-minute drive from our little place in Winter Park, high up where Highway 40 crosses the CDT atop Berthoud Pass, a few streams pour down from the melting summer snows. In the summer, the valleys carved out by this water fill with beautiful wildflowers.
No official trails lead up to these streams, but googlemaps can be helpful. Here are a few images from my “secret” places, the hidden gems I return to each summer. I won’t divulge the exact location, but these can be found with a little research. And I’ve never seen another person up there except for my own daughters who love to explore.
All images seen here were taken with a Canon DSLR along with a variety of lenses including a super-wide angle 11-24L, a 16-35L, and a 24-105L.
Happy wildflower hunting!
Images from Colorado