Wilderness Wanderings: Hike now to see wildflowers in the high country
Prime high country hiking has arrived in our region, not only because it’s mid-summer, but the trails in our Mount Zirkel, Flat Tops Sarvis and Wilderness areas are now in peak condition. Most of the high elevation snow has melted, stream and river crossings are more manageable and the most popular trails have been cleared of the especially high number of downed trees we reported to you last month. And best of all, subalpine wildflowers are peaking in many areas.
Just as the Friends of Wilderness and Forest Service trail crews endeavored to quickly clear trees off the trails, we’ll strive to present you with the most up-to-date information as to what wildflowers you can expect to enjoy. Sightings are courtesy of FOW volunteers who made it out to the trails within the past week.
Please know that some flowers may be very localized — what’s blooming in shady sections of trail in lower elevation would be totally different from what you might find 2,000 feet higher. Also, nature tends to have her way — peak blooms vary just as easily as winds can bring down additional trees that may block your way.
Gold Creek Trail
The trail has been cleared the first three miles up to Gold Creek Lake. However, those attempting to hike or run the Zirkel Circle will find there are still more than a dozen trees down on the section above the lake to the junction with Gilpin Trail and the lake, as well. And there is lingering snow on the upper sections of both trails.
Blooming wildflowers on Gold Creek Trail are not as intense as you might find on Gilpin Trail, according to Curt Rogers. Purple columbine are in peak bloom on the lower trail up to the footbridge. Thimbleberry and wild roses are blooming heavily in the middle section of trail before the log crossing. If the wind is right, you’ll be able to smell the roses even before you see them.
The five-mile Gilpin Trail currently offers the greatest variety and abundance of wildflowers in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. Emily Seaver, past president of the Yampa River Botanic Park, identified more flowers than we could include here, but they include columbine, pearly everlasting, tall chiming bells, bog orchid, heart leafed arnica, aspen sunflower, mountain parsley, bracted lousewort, false buckwheat, limber vetch, Rocky Mountain penstemon, sticky and Richardson’s geranium, false Solomon’s seal and mountain ash.
At higher elevations of the trail — particularly above Gilpin Lake, where there is still some snow — Rogers enjoyed beautiful fields of glacier lily. He also saw shooting stars in bloom in a few of the drainages that flow down into upper Gilpin Creek.
Mica Basin Trail
Volunteers Cathy Brideau and Rondell Ferguson hiked the lower section of the Mica Basin Trail and witnessed red and white paintbrush, thimbleberry, columbine, wild geraniums and wild roses, narrow leaf sunflower, cat’s paw, silvery lupine and yarrow.
A group of backpackers last week hiked this trail and had the thrill of seeing a bald eagle and an osprey swooping and diving above the lake.
Three Island Lake Trail
Though the lower portion of this trail is very dry, Tom Baer and Rosalie Summerill delighted in seeing blue aster, paintbrush, penstemon and red and white sticky geranium. In wet areas, they saw chiming bells, which are similar to blue bells.
Volunteer Elaine Dermody hopes to hike this trail soon and witness, just before the lake, a meadow in full bloom with elephant head flowers.
North Lake Trail
Volunteer trail crews expected to have North Lake Trail cleared this week. It was the most severely affected, with 90 fallen trees along its miles miles up and past the lake and on to the Continental Divide. Wildflowers currently seen along this trail include wild roses, thimbleberry, paint brush and chiming bells.
Forest Service Road 60, going up Buffalo Pass, was opened last week. Trails in that area have only been partially cleared of fallen trees, and hikers will still find small and large patches of snow. But spring wildflowers are abundant, including glacier lily, marsh marigold and larkspur. Also, if you hikes less than two miles north on 1101 Trail, you will find a viewpoint that takes in the Beaver Creek Fire which has burned near Walden since mid-June.
Bob Korch is a vice president and trail volunteer with Friends of Wilderness which assists the US Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. Reach Friends of Wilderness at friendsofwilderness.com.
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