July 2023 – We’ve often heard that Crested Butte is the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, and this year we discovered that that statement is 100% true! The hillsides and valleys were absolutely covered with wildflowers during our visit in mid-July, and the views were breathtaking!
When we stopped at the Visitors Center in Crested Butte to find out which hiking trail had the best flowers, the kindly lady behind the counter just smiled. “The flowers are everywhere. All the hiking trails are great!”
She grabbed a map and began circling trails all over the vast area that surrounds Crested Butte as a crowd of eager tourists, including ourselves, listened intently.
For an easy and super rewarding stroll among the flowers, the best reports she was getting for wildflowers at that particular moment was out on Snodgrass Trail.
That was all we needed to hear — off we went!
No sooner had we parked the truck at the trailhead than we were surrounded by blossoms smiling up at us. We couldn’t stop taking photos, and we’d only gone 10 steps from the truck!
We ascended a short dirt two track road to a gate. Valleys filled with wildflowers stretched out on either side of us. From our feet all the way out to the horizon, the flowers were basking in the sun. What a place!
We were awestruck by the beauty. Forget hiking. We just stood and stared, turning around and around and taking in the incredible display of flowers.
While our pace was “take a step, take ten photos,” Buddy, our Trail Scout, wanted to hike a little faster!
Suddenly, a mountain biker appeared on the trail in the distance. It looked as if he were floating through a bed of flowers. We stepped to one side to let him pass.
“I’ve never seen so many wildflowers on this trail in my entire life!” He said to us with a big grin as he rode past.
Another mountain biker came from the opposite direction. What a cool place to ride a bike!
We’d never been to Crested Butte during the wildflower season before, but this year was said to be a peak year. The heavy snowfall during the winter combined with the drenching spring rains had created the perfect environment for the flowers to bloom with exuberance, and bloom they did!
A few months prior, we’d seen a gorgeous display of wild poppies near Phoenix, Arizona, but that was just for a mile or two along a highway. This was completely different because it was a variety of flowers on hillsides near and far.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, more and more people joined us on the Snodgrass Trail. The trail is very narrow, so we were constantly stepping around each other, exchanging “oohs” and “aahs” over the wondrous beauty we were all experiencing together.
Buddy and the many other dogs on the trail were loving the outing too. Fresh air, good smells, new dogs to sniff, and a hiking trail — what more could anyone with four paws and a tail ever ask for?
Everyone was taking photos and there were quite a few photographers with tripods. When we set up our tripods, Buddy kept watch for anyone coming down the trail.
It was such a beautiful day and place, Mark suggested we get a family shot, so we took a quick pic of the three of us in this spectacular setting.
There are many ways to enjoy the trails that go through these valleys of flowers, and hiking, mountain biking and photography are just a few. We spotted several groups of horseback riders out on trail rides too!
Crested Butte hosts a weeklong Wildflower Festival in the middle of July each summer, and groups of people were out with leaders and teachers who were describing the flowers’ habits, calling them by their botanical names, and explaining how this one spot in Colorado has a unique soil, enriched by Mancos shale, that wildflowers just love.
The sun was rising high in the sky and it was getting quite hot, so we finally decided to turn around. It had taken us almost two hours to go less than a mile, so it could easily take us another two to get back to the truck!
I’d worn a wide brimmed cowboy hat that morning to keep the sun off my face, and it was just at this moment when we turned around that I suddenly realized I’d lost my hat out in the flowers somewhere…a while ago.
I’d worn a special backpack (that I love, by the way) to carry my spare camera gear, water bottle and jacket, but I’d discovered that when I crouched down to shoot the flowers at their level, the back brim of the hat would hit the backpack, tip forward and cover my eyes. So, I’d taken my hat off each time I stopped to take photos, and somewhere out there in the vast valleys of flowers I’d left it on the ground.
Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack!
I hurried back to the last three or four places I’d been. I found the one tall flower that had caught my attention 20 minutes before, and I was convinced the hat was somewhere near there.
I searched and searched, but found nothing. I was so disappointed. What a glorious day this had been, but what a frustrating ending. I really liked that hat. It had a cool band around it made from braided horsehair, and I’d bought it from an interesting character at a swap meet just six months prior.
Oh well. After we both searched for an hour and retraced my steps a bunch of times, we gave up and went back to the truck.
That night we studied our photos to see if we could piece together where I might have been when I last put my hat on the ground.
We knew I hadn’t had it when we took our family shot, and I remembered that I’d been photographing clumps of purple lupine just before that.
For some reason, Mark had taken a series of photos of me right around that time. So, on the computer, he blew up the area right around my feet in those photos — and there was my hat right next to me on the ground!
We checked the times on our cameras and discovered mine was 2 minutes and 47 seconds ahead of his. Then we looked at the photos I had been taking when he took the photo of me. My pics at that time were of the clumps of lupine, as I’d suspected. Mark remembered that I’d been standing just off the trail, and in his photos of me there were three big yellow flowers nearby.
All I had to do was walk along the trail until I found the spot where three big yellow flowers were growing together!
The next day we raced back to Crested Butte. We were camping over 30 miles away, but the miles flew by. When I dashed out onto the trail, I was instantly caught up in the beauty again! My camera couldn’t help itself, and it took lots of photos while I ran down the trail in hot pursuit of my hat.
The valleys were filled with happy yellow flowers. How could I ever find those three?
I came to the area where I’d been photographing the lupine and began to look for those three yellow flowers where I’d been standing… I walked slowly and passed lots of yellow flowers, but no groups of three.
Then, suddenly, I saw them, the only group of 3 yellow flowers on the entire trail! I peered into the vast garden of flowers behind them…and there was my hat! Right where I’d left it! I put it on my head and couldn’t help but laugh out loud. What are the chances?
Snodgrass Trail is just one of dozens of great trails in the area, and the wildflowers on each trail peak at a different time between mid-July and August. In fact, a local hiker on the trail told us he thought Snodgrass was still a week from peaking when we were there! The red Indian Paintbrush hadn’t bloomed yet and the dark purple Larkspur were just beginning to bud.
We’d heard fabulous reports about the wildflowers on Brush Creek Trail, but by the time we got out there many of the flowers had faded. So, it’s hit-or-miss, not only with the overall abundance of flowers for a given season but also which hillsides have the most dazzling displays at any particular time.
Ironically, the best wildflowers in the Brush Creek area were on the roadside in the last hundred yards before the Brush Creek Trailhead!
Notes for taking an RV trip to Crested Butte
The wildflowers in Crested Butte are worth going way out of your way to see. However, it’s not super easy with an RV.
Tourists staying in the big hotels in and around Crested Butte are able to roll out of bed and hit the hiking trails at dawn while we’d already been driving for over half an hour when we joined them.
There’s only one RV park in Crested Butte, and the rate we saw was over $100/night, including taxes, and the reviews weren’t great.
However, there are both USFS campgrounds for smaller rigs and designated boondocking sites for bigger rigs if you are willing to drive many miles down dusty dirt roads. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you may be happiest staying in Gunnison which is 27 miles south of Crested Butte.
We drove that route three times to see the wildflowers, and as I mentioned, the miles flew by. It’s a beautiful drive!
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More info about Crested Butte and its spectacular wildflowers:
- Crested Butte Tourist Info – Official website
- Crested Butte Wildflower Festival – Official website
- The relationship between Mancos shale and Crested Butte wildflowers
- Snodgrass Trail – Hiking Project
- RV parks and campgrounds around Crested Butte – Campendium
- RV parks and campgrounds around Gunnison – Campendium
- Interactive map of these places – Google Maps
Other places we’ve seen great wildflowers:
- Black Hills Back Country Byway – Spring Flowers in Arizona!
- Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) – Wildflowers Everywhere!
- Cedar Breaks Wildflowers + Stunning Brian Head Overlook
- Hunting Spring Wildflowers in Arizona
- Hurricane Creek Wildflowers – Enterprise OR
- Montana Road Trip – Wildflowers, Bison, a Mission Church + Good Eats!
- Waterton Lakes Nat’l Park – Starry Skies, the Milky Way & Wildflowers
- Where to See WILDFLOWERS (especially POPPIES) in Arizona 2023!
- Wildflowers in Wyoming – Spring Showers Bring Spectacular July Flowers!!
More articles from our travels in Colorado:
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO – Steep and Deep!
- Brilliant Fall Foliage + Snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado
- Buena Vista Colorado – What a Place for an RV Breakdown!
- Burro Days! Burro Races, Llamas & Outhouses in Fairplay CO
- Colorado GOLD – A Fall Foliage Photography Workshop
- Colorado National Monument & Fruita CO – Red Rocks, Cycling & Wine!
- Colorado’s San Juan Skyway – An RV Trip in Dazzling Fall Color!
- Colorado’s Stunning Scenic Drives…by Porsche!
- Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Durango, Colorado, and Alpine, Texas!
- Creede, CO – Mining History & Championships + 4th of July!
- Hartman Rocks – A Different View of Colorado near Gunnison
- Lake Granby Colorado RV Trip – A Summer Beach Vacation!
- Lakes and Light in Wyoming and Colorado
- Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Life on the Edge with the Ancients
- Ouray – Finding the COLOR in Colorado on an RV Trip!
- Remote RV Camping: Antero Reservoir & Blue River Colorado
- Ridgway, CO – Peak fall foliage on the Dallas Divide – WOW!!
- Rocky Mountain High: Alpine Beauty in Colorado + Trout Lake!
- Rocky Mountain National Park & Trail Ridge Road: RV? Dog??
- Romance at Maroon Bells Colorado!
- RV Trip on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway – Ouray to Silverton
- San Juan Mountains Colorado – And then it Snowed!
- Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado – Fire in the Sky!
- Telluride Gondola Ride in Colorado – FREE and Dog Friendly!
- Where All News is Good News – At the Saguache Crescent in CO
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