Wildflowers peaking near 8,500 feet in Routt County

Rocky Mountain Columbine, the state flower, were just starting to emerge at Sheriff Reservoir in southern Routt County in late June. Naturalists predict wildflowers will be in full bloom around 8,500 feet in elevation in early July.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

With spring moisture and recent rains, wildflowers are in full bloom on Yampa Valley’s trails, roadsides, lakeshores and meadows at about 8,500 feet elevation.

“We haven’t seen a bloom like this in a long time. We went into this season with a good amount of moisture,” said Mary O’Brien, a naturalist and herbalist. “I think this year we are going to get a lot of fruit. The bears will be happy.”

This year’s wildflower crop is a good sign after last year’s shorter wildflower season was limited by dryer conditions, O’Brien said. Berry production this year is looking positive for bear foraging.

O’Brien said the Fiddlehead, Panorama and upper Spring Creek trails and the area near Dry Lake Campground off Buffalo Pass Road were abundant with flowers and visitors this weekend.

“I’m seeing more of everything compared to the past two years. I’m seeing a lot of flowers in places I haven’t seen before,” said O’Brien, who leads wildflower walks for nonprofit Yampatika and works part time at the Yampa River Botanic Park.

The naturalist said she has been enjoying seeing penstemon and columbine flowers recently at Chapman Reservoir in southern Routt County. This year she is seeing lots of blooming of wild roses, fern leaf lovage, pink wild geranium, mountain ash and antelope brush.

“Compared to last year, we were already starting to dry out,” she said. “Flowers and shrubs were definitely stressed last year due to drought, so we were seeing fewer of everything. Things were flowering and going to seed much earlier last year.”

Mules ears flooded fields in North Routt on Saturday, July 2. Wildflowers are peaking around 8,500 feet of elevation in early July.
Shelby Reardon

Later in July, wildflowers should be blooming heartily at higher elevations closer to 10,000 feet, such as at Dumont Lake near Rabbit Ears Pass and in the Flattops Wilderness, O’Brien said. Hikers who don’t find wildflowers might just need to change their elevation as finding flowers is about timing and elevation.

“You go up 500 feet on the trail and you see totally different things. It’s all about the timing,” she said.

Wildflowers in Routt County

O’Brien helps to lead Yampatika’s free Wildflower Wanders. The short,easy walks have been filling up fast and attracting a waiting list, O’Brien said. Reservations are required through the calendar link at for the Monday walks through Aug. 15.

Cool afternoon rains should keep wildflowers lasting longer this year, O’Brien said, as she hopes to continue the group hikes into August this summer whereas the wanderings were cancelled in August 2021.

O’Brien and fellow naturalist Karen Vail also host longer walks that are available by pre-registration for a $25 fee. A Wildflower Hike from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. will take place July 15 with Vail and a Medicinal Herb Hike with O’Brien on July 22.

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