Hikes are often about discovery, and nothing delights wildflower lovers more than encountering an unexpected abundance of trailside blooms. But why leave it to chance? Here are five hikes where wildflowers and all the accompanying birds and butterflies are a guaranteed part of the package.
Carl E. Wynn Nature Center Trails • akcoastalstudies.org
Wildflower season in Alaska is short but sweet: 24 hours of daylight translates into an eruption of color. From mid-June to Labor Day, find meadows full of chocolate lilies and pink fireweed along the five miles of trails winding through the 140-acres comprising the Wynn Nature Center.
Wildflower peak: Late July
Highlights: Views of glaciers, Kachemak Bay and possible bear and moose sightings.
Cost: $7 (adult); $6 (seniors), $5 (under 18); $20 (family).
Girdner Trail • redrockcountry.org
The towering red rocks and ponderosa pine forests of Sedona, Ariz., have long made it a top hiking destination. The Red Rock District lays claim to 113 trails in a 20-mile radius, many with views of sweeping vistas and in the spring, an explosion of desert wildflowers. Try the 9-mile Girdner Trail, where you’ll be surrounded by old cottonwoods, alligator junipers and pink-flowering prickly pear cactuses.
Wildflower peak: May
Highlights: Gorgeous scenery and a reputation as a vortex (spiritual energy) site.
Cost: Red Rock Pass $5 (daily), $15 (weekly)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Gregory Bald Trail • nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
The 2,700-foot elevation gain during this 9-mile hike is strenuous, but pace yourself. There’s a huge payoff for late spring/early summer hikers who make it to the top of Gregory Bald Mountain in the Smokies: a burst of blood orange, fire red, salmon, lemon yellow and snow white flame azaleas fanned out across the summit’s grassy field.
Wildflower peak: mid-June
Highlights: Panoramic views, a carpet of multicolored azaleas.
TWENTYNINE PALMS, CALIFORNIA
Joshua Tree National Park
49 Palms Oasis Trail • nps.gov/jotr/index.htm
A combination of last year’s September rain followed by warm winter nights add up to an early wildflower bloom in many parts of this picturesque, 550,000-acre park. Desert wildflowers such as Canterbury bells, sand blazing stars and rock daisies have been poking through the rocks and soil of the California desert since late January and will last through June at higher elevations. For a fantastic, up-close view, hike the 3-mile roundtrip 49 Palms Oasis Trail, one of Joshua Tree’s dozen-plus wildflower-laden trails.
Wildflower peak: March and April
Highlights: Incredible views and sparkling pools of water.
Cost: $15 (7-day vehicle permit)
CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO
Yule Pass • gunnisoncrestedbutte.com
As the home of the annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival (July 9-15, 2012), this Colorado town knows its wildflowers. Dozens of trails on and around Mt. Crested Butte are surrounded by meadows packed with lupine and mules ear sunflowers. The four-mile Yule Pass offers side trails leading to Treasury, Purple and Cinnamon Mountains.
Wildflower peak: July
Highlights: Breathtaking mountain views and wide-open spaces.