Wilderness Wanderings: Hike now to enjoy Zirkel wildflowers | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Hike now to enjoy Zirkel wildflowers

Rocky Mountain columbine should be blooming over the next several weeks in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
Mary Korch

Now is the time to get out and enjoy a great variety of mountain wildflowers if you pick your hiking trails carefully. Some trails have an abundance of flowers whereas other trails have relatively few. 

Also, if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the lower part of a trail, you have more chances to view them if you go higher in elevation where the melt off was later and it’s still earlier summer or even springtime.

That’s especially true for mass displays of glacier lily and marsh marigold, which closely follow the snow line. And now is a great time to view Rocky Mountain columbine, which was adopted as the official state flower of Colorado in 1899.

Friends of Wilderness volunteers in the past few days reported back with dozens of different wildflower sightings on many of the trails near upper Seedhouse Road. The following is what they found.

Gold Creek Lake Trail currently has a large variety of flowers in bloom. Volunteers Nancy Kellogg, Rita Soller and Sidney Moon found 33 different varieties, ranging from indian paintbrush, parry’s primrose and Jacob’s ladder to shooting stars and bog wintergreen. 

And in wet areas, lots of bluebells, also called chiming bells. They also confirmed three orchids: brown cluster, coral root and bog. 

“As we hiked up in elevation, many of the species in bloom changed, either because their season is somewhat altered by altitude or because different flower species prefer different environs,” Kellogg said. “For anyone who enjoys flowers, it should still be good hunting for several weeks.”

Hiking Mica Trail, Emily Seaver and Cindy Kinnear, Elaine Dermody and Elain Kopf get the award for identifying the most flowers — an eye-popping 41. Now that’s some bouquet! Of course it helps that Seaver is a longtime board member of Yampa River Botanic Park. 

Know before you go

  • Trails to the most popular lakes – Three Island, Gold, Gilpin and Mica – are clear of snow and fallen trees. However, there is still persistent snow at the top end of the Zirkel Circle that requires those hiking counterclockwise to glissade down a steep, snow-covered slope.
  • Streams are still running high and swift. Bring your water shoes or plan to get your feet wet.
  • Mosquitos currently are especially bad near the lakes, so don’t forget to apply bug repellent.

These ladies saw lousewort, red gilia, waterleaf, purple vetch, spearmint, columbine, whipple’s penstemon and salsify which is otherwise known as oyster plan due to the taste of its roots. They also found aspen sunflower, which is also called old-man-of-the-mountain. 

Tom Baer, Tom Schlicht and Dave Kinnear did not have much luck with flowers on Gilpin Trail, although they did see that columbine are just starting to bloom.

“Flowers are going off late this year,” Baer said.

Wildflowers were relatively sparse on the lesser hiked Three Island Lake and North Lake trails. However, saw crews on those two trails saw occasional wild roses with larger than normal blossoms. There was also wild mustard and an abundance of white blossomed thimbleberry. 

Heading out to a hike? Don’t forget to bring your wildflower book. Or even better, load a wildflower app on your smartphone to help identify the flowers. Yes, there’s an app for that, too.

For up-to-date trail information call the U.S. Forest Service in Steamboat Springs at 970-870-2299 or in Yampa at 970-638-4516. Or check the Routt County Trail Conditions Group page on Facebook.

Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, go to friendsofwilderness.com.

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