Top places to find spring wildflowers in Routt County
May 17, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Secrets are often hard to keep, but the wildflowers uncovered from the recent snowmelt are anything but quiet.
"You have to get out now while you can," said Gayle Noonan, park director of the Yampa River Botanic Park.
The wildflower season has arrived in Routt County with glacier lilies, mountain bluebells, spring beauties, larkspur, lupine and mule's ears sunflowers beginning to make their appearances.
Thanks to the winter snowmelt, spring blooms typically start to appear in mid-May, said Karen Vail, a local botanist, environmental educator and author. “But depending on the type of plant, location and elevation, wildflowers can bloom from April to October.
"Higher elevation areas, at 10,000 feet or so, are still really brown, and it could be awhile until you will start to see the flowers and trees in bloom around June," said John Fielder, renowned Colorado landscape photographer. "Above that, in the high country like Seedhouse, those wildflowers won't start popping up until July."
This week, however, the wildflowers are in full bloom in the lower Alpine areas of Routt County, and for best viewing, here are some tips from a few wildflower experts.
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Advice from Routt County botanist Karen Vail
Vail advised people to take a walk on the Red Dirt Trail, Fish Creek Falls, Uranium Mine Trail or Emerald Mountain to find patches of glacier lilies, mountain bluebells, spring beauties, yellow violets, irises, larkspur and mule's ears sunflowers, just to name a few.
As one of Yampatika's naturalists, Vail leads a variety of wildflower and medicinal herb hikes around the Yampa Valley. Programs and destinations vary.
Her first wildflower walk of the season will take place from 9 a.m. to noon on the Red Dirt Trail to see some early bloomers like the purple clematis. Those who plan to attend should meet at the Stockbridge Transit Center and sign up at yampatika.org. Other wildflower hikes are scheduled for June 23 and July 14.
Advice from John Fielder, renowned Colorado landscape photographer
"In Routt County there's some of the most beautiful sub-alpine areas around," Fielder said. "There's an incredible network of county and forest service dirt roads in both Routt and White River National Forest that take you into some of those beautiful sub-alpine areas."
Fielder said dwarf larkspur, lupine and glacier lilies can be easily found along Elk River Road toward Steamboat Lake and Hahn's Peak. To find sunflowers, Fielder said look to the hillsides driving west on Routt County Roads 56, 68 and 62.
"I found the second thickest patch of lupine I've ever seen in Colorado driving toward Wolf Mountain Ranch, west on C.R. 52 towards Columbine Pass,” Fielder said. “That whole area is extraordinary."
Heading toward Dunckley Pass, Fielder recommended following C.R. 8 due west of Phippsburg and Yampa for fields of wildflowers and blooming aspen trees. Other roads with similar views include C.R. 8 and C.R. 29 south of Hayden.
"The flowers are great, but the aspen trees blooming is as beautiful as the gold in autumn with its lime green color backlit against the extraordinary cobalt blue skies," he said. "I can't help but just think to myself how lucky we are to be alive and to live in Colorado."
Other wildflower-viewing areas Fielder suggests visiting include:
The Sarvis Creek Trail #1105: a 10.1-mile, moderately trafficked, out-and-back trail rated as moderate. On the west side, the Sarvis Creek Trail begins just below Stagecoach off of Routt County Road 18.
Directions: Follow Colorado Highway 131, eight miles north to Routt County Road 14. Go east on 14, four miles to Routt County Road 18A. Follow C.R. 18A east for 0.6 mile to Routt County Road 18, then follow C.R. 18 3.2 miles to the trailhead.
Stagecoach Reservoir's Elk Run Trail: 5.1 mile, one-way trail that is a flat trail with great views of the wildflowers.
Directions: The trailhead is located near the southeastern edge of Routt County on Routt County Road 16, a little less than 20 miles southeast of Stagecoach Reservoir.
Vaughn Lake and East Fork Trail: located near the Dunckley Pass area, 31 miles northwest of Yampa. It is along Forest Development Road 16, a portion of the Flat Tops Trail Scenic and Historic Byway. The East Fork Trail is located in the Flat Tops, west of Yampa, and leads from Stillwater Reservoir to Forest Highway 16 near Pyramid. This trail intersects with several other trails along the way.
Status of nearby trails:
"Trails in lower alpine areas will be open," said Ben Lindsley, recreation program manager for the U.S. Forest Service Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District. "It was a little quicker this year due to the lower snowfall."
While trails are opening up, Lindsley said there are still wet areas and trees down.
Mad Creek – #1100 – Swamp Park Trail
Status: Open just past the barn.
Hot Springs Trail
Status: open and mostly dry – might be a few trees down on trail.
Fish Creek Falls Trail
Status: Lower portion, open.
Status: Open, still has some drifts up high.
Dry Lake Area – Panorama Trail
Status: Snow free but still very soft.
Status: lower trails opening up
Fields of glacier lilies can be found along Routt County Road 129 near North Routt. Buffalo Pass is still closed due to snow. Trail users must keep in mind that Flash of Gold and Behind the Rock are closed from May 15 to June 15 for elk calving.
Explore the Yampa River Botanic Park
The 6-acre Yampa River Botanic Park on Pamela Lane is an oasis of serenity in the middle of Steamboat Springs. It’s free to visit, and it’s a great place to learn about Northwest Colorado’s plant life.
"It's tulip season right now – in every color but blue," Noonan said. "It changes daily. There's something else opening up each morning we arrive.
The park is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk May 1 to Oct. 31.