Crest Lupine

The Sier­ra Neva­da Moun­tains offer rich wildlife habi­tat, wild pub­lic lands, and a diverse array of plant life—some of the most stun­ning of which are its abun­dant and var­ied wild­flow­ers. From the redun­dant to the rarely seen, the Sier­ras con­tain some tru­ly beau­ti­ful, col­or­ful and odd­ly shaped foliage.

Here are some of the highlights:

woolly mule's earsWooly Mule’s Ear (Wyethia mol­lis )
Look­ing an awful lot like a sun­flower sit­ting atop large, fuzzy leaves, wooly mule’s ear is one of the most abun­dant wild­flow­ers in the Tahoe area. In fact, it has even earned the col­lo­qui­al name “Tahoe toi­let paper” due to its acces­si­bil­i­ty through­out the region and its soft, ample leaves, which can serve a hygien­ic func­tion in a pinch. How­ev­er, don’t con­fuse it with the equal­ly abun­dant arrow-leaved bal­sam­root, which is also abun­dant in the Tahoe area but sports upside-down heart-shaped leaves, as opposed to the oblong leaves of the wooly mule’s ear.


Crest LupineCrest Lupine
There are a large num­ber of sim­i­lar look­ing lupines in the Sier­ras, includ­ing Gray’s, Brewer’s, Tahoe, and Torrey’s, just to name a few. The easy way to tell a lupine is its palmate leaf struc­ture and pur­ple Plan­tag­i­naceae struc­ture (like a clus­ter of small snap­drag­ons), and you can dif­fer­en­ti­ate the crest lupine based on the hard, tooth-like struc­ture at the back of each flower, which will also help you remem­ber the name, giv­en its sim­i­lar­i­ty to a cer­tain tooth­paste brand.


Com­mon­ly referred to as ground smoke, these tiny, four-petaled flow­ers grow all over the place, though you would hard­ly ever notice them. The tiny white flow­ers sit atop a del­i­cate frame of stems, sim­i­lar to baby’s breath. Despite their unas­sum­ing appear­ance and diminu­tive size, they are actu­al­ly in the prim­rose family.


alpine lilyAlpine Lily (Lil­i­um parvum )
One of the most beau­ti­ful wild­flow­ers dom­i­nat­ing the Sier­ras and its foothills is the Alpine lily. This bell-shaped flower is also called the Sier­ra tiger lily due to its orange col­or and spots. While it looks like it has six petals, it real­ly only has three, and the oth­er three petals are actu­al­ly its sepals.

On the oth­er end of the scale, the last two flow­ers are rare, but if you hap­pen to spot one, do remem­ber that their place on this plan­et is ten­u­ous and frag­ile. Nev­er pick any of the fol­low­ing flow­ers, and be aware that wild­flow­ers are fick­le and can­not be grown in cap­tiv­i­ty, so don’t even think about try­ing to steal them and grow them in your own gar­den. It will not work, and you will just be killing one of a hand­ful of these spe­cial beauties.

steer's headSteer’s Head (Dicen­tra uni­flo­ra )
An appro­pri­ate­ly named flower, Steer’s Head often grows in wet, shad­ed patch­es. Its shape close­ly resem­bles that of a steer’s head all in white, and if you spot this del­i­cate flower, be care­ful not to tram­ple or oth­er­wise dam­age even a sin­gle flower, as they are uncom­mon and should be pro­tect­ed at all cost.


Bolandra californicaSier­ra Bolan­dra (Bolan­dra cal­i­for­ni­ca )
Native to the High Sier­ras, this unas­sum­ing small plant grows in shade along the water and often out of gran­ite, and is even rar­er than the steer’s head. Its urn-shaped flower is most­ly green, which close­ly match­es its stem col­or, with just a hint of pur­ple, while the upside-down bell of the petals pro­tects its repro­duc­tive parts. If you see this flower, give it a wide birth and ensure pets do not tram­ple or pee on it.

Crested Butte

Some might argue the great­est thing about spring is the explo­sion of col­or that hap­pens as trees come back to life and flow­ers begin to bloom. If you’re seek­ing out some tru­ly breath­tak­ing views for your spring camp­ing trips, here are a few spots where the kalei­do­scope of col­ors will rock your world.

Crested ButteCrest­ed Butte, Colorado
The annu­al Wild­flower Fes­ti­val in Crest­ed Butte isn’t held until July, but many of the blooms begin ear­ly in the spring. End­less arrays of trails sur­round the town lead­ing up into the moun­tains with great views of the sur­round­ing land­scape. You’ll find your­self knee-deep in blooms of orange, gold and pink flow­ers. A lit­tle high­er up into the West Elk Moun­tains and you’ll find bril­liant yel­low alpine sun­flow­ers every­where you look, along with stun­ning death camas, del­phini­ums and blue columbines.

Franconia NotchFran­co­nia Notch, New Hampshire
New England’s fall camp­ing sea­son is the stuff of leg­end for those seek­ing out some col­or­ful views, but even in Spring, the rolling hills near Fran­co­nia Notch State Park can rival any com­pe­ti­tion. The illus­tri­ous pur­ple lupines of Sug­ar Hill are prac­ti­cal­ly world-famous and Fran­co­nia Notch puts you front and cen­ter for the show. It also doesn’t hurt that the sur­round­ing White Moun­tains make for some of the most epic adven­ture grounds in the coun­try. In ear­ly spring the lupines are accent­ed by bril­liant hues of red, yel­low and white blooms.

Smokemont Loop, North CarolinaSmoke­mont Loop, North Carolina
While Ten­nessee might house the most famous por­tions of the Great Smoky Moun­tains North Car­oli­na lays claim to the most beau­ti­ful parts in ear­ly spring. That’s because the Smoke­mont Loop Trail near Chero­kee comes alive with a cacoph­o­ny of white, pink and pur­ple vio­lets and foam flow­ers once the weath­er starts to warm. The trail itself is a sim­ple route that’s well suit­ed for any lev­el of hik­er and there are rough­ly 140 camp­sites avail­able to plant to your tent. You real­ly can’t go wrong any­where in the Great Smoky Moun­tains, lov­ing­ly nick­named the “Wild­flower Nation­al Park.”

Hite Cove, YosemiteHite Cove, Yosemite, California
The Sier­ra Nevadas already hold some of the most awe-inspir­ing views in the west­ern hemi­sphere and come March through May the moun­tain­side comes even more alive with wild­flow­ers. Home to arguably the best wild­flower camp­ing and hik­ing in the state, or the coun­try, the Hite Cove Trail is cov­ered with 60 dif­fer­ent vari­eties of wild­flow­ers dur­ing the spring sea­son. It’s a fan­tas­tic spot for out­door adven­tur­ers, sea­soned hik­ers and your aver­age flower enthu­si­asts to set up camp and expe­ri­ence beau­ty in its truest form.

carrizo plainCar­ri­zo Plain, South­ern California
With the super bloom in full sweep (and swal­low­ing your news feed), it’s no sur­prise this epic dis­play of col­or makes the list. While a super bloom doesn’t hap­pen every year you can still find plen­ty of spots in the SoCal desert where the blooms pop up each spring. Chief among them is the Car­ri­zo Plain Nation­al Mon­u­ment. Locat­ed rough­ly 100 miles north­east of Los Ange­les, this large grass­land plain is 50 miles long and show­cas­es some of the most vibrant col­ors you can imag­ine. All of which are set against a pret­ty beige back­ground to make them tru­ly pop. There are plen­ty of camp­grounds to be had with the eas­i­est, Sel­by, nes­tled right in the nation­al monument.

Mount Rainier

To expe­ri­ence the paint strokes of nature in their prime, pass by wild­flow­ers dur­ing your favorite hikes. If you trek any of these trails dur­ing the right time of year, you’ll see an abun­dance of beau­ty you’ll nev­er for­get. To catch some wild­flower dis­plays at the right time, it’s worth check­ing out these 10 best trails for wild­flower hikes.

Columbia GorgeUpper Sec­tion of the Cape Horn Trail—Columbia Riv­er Gorge, Oregon
A great hike any time of the year, the upper sec­tion of the Cape Horn trail on the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge real­ly blos­soms to life each spring. Fea­tur­ing sweep­ing views of the Colum­bia Gorge and a close look at the cas­cad­ing Cape Horn Falls, this rugged hike is also con­ve­nient­ly locat­ed only about 45 min­utes away from Port­land. Hik­ers need to be aware that the low­er por­tion of the Cape Horn loop trail is closed from Feb­ru­ary until July to pro­tect nest­ing Pere­grine Fal­cons, but the upper loop is always open and is a great place to find some wild­flow­ers come spring.

Blue­bell Island Trail on the Clinch River—Centreville, Virginia
The sweet spot to explore the Blue­bell Trail in Bull Run Region­al Park of North­ern Vir­ginia is mid-April, with over 25 vari­eties of wild­flow­ers bloom­ing along the path. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the most com­mon wild­flower you’ll see on this very-mod­er­ate walk­ing path is the Peren­ni­al Blue­bell Flower, which adds a splash of col­or to the Vir­gin­ian coun­try­side. To see more wild­flow­ers in action, the sur­round­ing Bull Run Region­al Park offers 1,500 more acres to explore, includ­ing the 19.7‑mile, nat­ur­al-sur­face Bull Run Occo­quan Trail.

Crested ButteWash­ing­ton Gulch Trail #403—Crested Butte, Colorado
Some­times referred to as “the last great ski town in Col­orado”, Crest­ed Butte and the adjoin­ing Crest­ed Butte Moun­tain Resort does have quite the rep­u­ta­tion for being a world-class ski­ing des­ti­na­tion. Ask any­one who has stuck around past the Col­orado win­ter though, and they’ll agree that there is still a lot to do and see when the snow melts away. A prime exam­ple of that can be found with the 7.8‑mile, out and back Wash­ing­ton Gulch Trail (also referred to as Trail 403). Fea­tur­ing an awe-inspir­ing com­bi­na­tion of wild­flow­ers and full panora­mas of the sur­round­ing Rocky Moun­tains, it’s wild­flower hikes these that makes every­one and their cousins want to move to Colorado.

Deep Creek Loop Trail—Deep Creek Recre­ation Area, Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park
Beard­tongue, Bluets, and Blue-Eyed Grass; these are just some of the many wild­flow­ers you can expect to see through­out the spring when you vis­it the cel­e­brat­ed Deep Creek area of the Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park. With an abun­dance of water­falls and streams to nav­i­gate through and around, the eye-catch­ing col­ors on the ground won’t be the only thing vying for your atten­tion. The Deep Creek Loop Trail is rough­ly 4 miles long, though it is inter­sect­ed with oth­er fas­ci­nat­ing trails that sprawl through­out the area, ensur­ing that you get to choose your own kind of adven­ture when look­ing for wild­flow­ers in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Antelope ValleyAnte­lope Val­ley Pop­py Reserve—Lancaster, California
Locat­ed in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the Mojave Desert, the Ante­lope Val­ley Pop­py Reserve fos­ters an incred­i­ble bloom of the Cal­i­for­nia state flower, the Cal­i­for­nia Pop­py. With a bloom that gen­er­al­ly ranges from mid-Feb­ru­ary to late May, vis­i­tors have plen­ty of time to check out these sea­son­al sur­pris­es of the desert land­scape, and the state-pro­tect­ed Ante­lope Val­ley Pop­py Pre­serve has 8 miles of mod­er­ate trails to immerse your­self in all the col­or and aro­mas of this stun­ning spring hike.

Suther­land Trail—Catalina State Park, Arizona
Sit­u­at­ed square­ly in the San­ta Catali­na Moun­tains, the 5,500 acres of Ari­zona back­coun­try of Catali­na State Park attracts vis­i­tors year-round to this high-desert land­scape. Whether it’s hik­ing, bik­ing or bird­watch­ing, many of the local Tuc­so­nans and fur­ther-trav­el­ing explor­ers will agree that the best time to explore Catali­na State Park is between March and April, when the rugged foothills and canyon depths come alive with wild­flower col­or. With the dras­tic back­ground of desert land­scapes con­trast­ing nice­ly with the col­or of a new sea­son, the 8.6‑mile, one-way Suther­land Trail is per­haps one of the best places in the coun­try to appre­ci­ate wild­flow­ers while you hike.

Mount RainierBench & Snow Lakes Trail—Mt. Rainier Nation­al Park, Washington
Locat­ed lit­er­al­ly in Par­adise, the Bench & Snow Lakes trail can not only give you some of the best wild­flow­ers looks you’ll see all sum­mer any­where else in the nation, but as a back­drop to all the action, the impres­sive Mount Rainier is also vis­i­ble most days when the fore­cast allows it. This 2.5‑mile loop is a pret­ty mod­er­ate start to the day, though it can give views that will last you a life­time, and there are plen­ty of oth­er trails in the Par­adise and sur­round­ing areas of Mount Rainier Nation­al Park to explore, prov­ing what many already knew, that Mount Rainier Nation­al Park is one of the best places to catch mid-sum­mer wild­flow­ers and year-round adventure.

Niquette Bay State Park Trail—Colchester, Vermont
Locat­ed on the shores of Lake Cham­plain as an inden­ta­tion of the much larg­er Mal­letts Bay, Niquette Bay State Park is a 584-acre facil­i­ty that is a pop­u­lar place to explore for the neigh­bor­ing res­i­dents of Burling­ton, Ver­mont. Open only dur­ing day­light hours with camp­ing not allowed, day hik­ers at Niquette Bay State Park can find dolomite lime­stone cliffs, sandy shores and for just a few weeks in late April, an impres­sive col­lec­tion of blos­som­ing spring flow­ers that line the 3.2‑mile trail that mean­ders through the park. While Niquette Bay is beau­ti­ful any time of the year, it is these spring moments that real­ly set the scene for this pic­turesque State Park.

Mt TimpanogosThe Tim­pooneke Trail—Mount Tim­pano­gos, Utah
Mount Tim­pano­gos stands tall as the sec­ond high­est sum­mit in the Wasatch Range of Utah, only behind the neigh­bor­ing Mount Nebo, and the trails and scenery sur­round­ing the top of this rugged moun­tain are con­sid­ered a Utah clas­sic. There are two ways to get to the top of Mount Tim­pano­gos, the 8.3‑mile Aspen Grove Trail, and the 7.5‑mile Tim­pooneke Trail, and while both are fair­ly demand­ing one-ways routes to the top, each also shares some fan­tas­tic wild­flower vis­tas between July and August. With such read­i­ly avail­able views of wild­flow­ers pressed against the Wasatch Moun­tains, you don’t even need to make it to the top of either hike to have a mem­o­rable time explor­ing Mount Timpanogos.

Cot­ton­wood Creek Trails—Custer Gal­latin Nation­al For­est, Montana
Locat­ed in the Boze­man Dis­trict of Custer Gal­latin Nation­al For­est, the three dif­fer­ent Cot­ton­wood Trails (South, Mid­dle & North) all offer dense for­est and mead­ow land­scapes as they mean­der next to Cot­ton­wood Creek. Much not­ed as a hike for a hot day thanks to the adja­cent cold waters of Cot­ton­wood Creek, the best rea­son to get on these trails between June and August is the wild­flow­ers that take over the area, pre­sent­ing a stun­ning view of alpine excel­lence. All three trails pro­vide dif­fer­ent flo­ra options, and all three trails pro­vide dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences in terms of hik­ing dif­fi­cul­ty but check them out in the right sea­son and all three won’t fail to stim­u­late your spring­time senses.