Crested Butte Wildflowers Colorado Wildflower Guide: Crested Butte is the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. Each summer, nature puts on a show that’s hard to beat anywhere else in the country. Stretching from the top of the peaks and all the way down to Gunnison, from May to August you’ll find a wide diversity of species anywhere you look.
The guide below is only a small sampling of all the wildflowers you could find in the Gunnison Valley. For more information we recommend checking out the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival’s guides and bringing a field guide with you on your adventures.
Colorado Wildflower Etiquette
When you’re out searching for flowers, please be mindful of the ecosystem, your own safety and the enjoyment of others behind you by following these guidelines:
- Don’t pick the wildflowers. Our growing season is incredibly short and plants need every day in order to spread their seeds for the following summers. It’s also a bummer if you’ve come to a spread of flowers and someone has been picking them, leaving none for you to enjoy.
- Practice Leave No Trace. Not only should you not pick wildflowers, but you should also be conscious of your trash, bathroom practices, animals and staying on the trails.
- Be safe. Recreating outdoors is beautiful and can be done safely, but carries some risk. Lightning from afternoon thunderstorms is a common threat. Start and end your hikes early, especially above treeline. Drive carefully on narrow gravel roads. Make sure you’re carrying the proper equipment into the backcountry, and leave a travel plan with a friend or family member.
- Carry a map. Fortunately we have a free one you can download to your phone at CBGTrails.com. It works offline and has searchable trails for ease of use.
Mules Ears Sunflowers
One of the largest flowers around, these beauties grow together and leave our valley floors coated in yellow from mid-June through early August. While found pretty much everywhere, some of the best places to view them are on Kebler Pass, Mt. Crested Butte and on the Walrod Cutoff Trail in Cement Creek.
You’ll have to get above treeline to find these flowers. Common spots to find them are Scarp Ridge, Red Lady and West Maroon Pass. Sometimes you’ll find one and sometimes the whole hillside will be strewn with them.
One of the most satisfying flowers to find in the Gunnison Valley is the Calypso Orchid because of its preferred habitat. Dark, dry evergreen forests are the best place to spot these little pink flowers. Once you find one you’ll usually find a few more in the vicinity. They are mostly solitary, but occasional good luck will yield a whole crop. Trails like 409.5, Deadman’s and Matchless are good bets for spotting these.
A water-loving plant, the Elephant Head flowers grow near river bottoms and marshes throughout the valley. Named because their flowers look exactly like miniature elephant heads, complete with trunk, their purple hue is a favorite for fly fishers and river lovers everywhere. Look for them in the Slate Valley, Cement Creek, Brush Creek and pretty much anywhere with water below 10,000′. They tend to bloom earlier in the season and are usually all gone by August.
Fireweed is one of the last big blooms of the year and usually don’t appear until late July and lasting into August. Their tall pink flowers are found primarily in meadows and sunny patches in the forest. Look for them in Cement Creek, on Trail 401 and in Rustler’s Gulch, though they’re common in most places in the Valley.
Also called Avalanche Lilies or Snow Lilies, these flowers are one of the first signs of summer. By the time runoff is over in June these flowers are too. The combination of these beautiful little flowers mixed between snow patches is one of the great joys of June. Oh Be Joyful and Kebler Pass are both great places to find them.
Also commonly referred to as Monument Plants, these flowers are the largest in the valley. In some cases they can reach over 6′ tall. Research from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory shows that Green Gentian plants have a lifespan of 20-80 years, but only bloom once in their lifetime. In heavy snow years whole hillsides may decide that the time is right and burst into huge flowers.
Several kinds of Lupine exist in the Gunnison Valley and its purple blooms are one of the most common in the early summer. The best place to find them is on their namesake Lupine Trail and in Cement Creek.
Another common flower with many species residing in Gunnison County. From Hartman Rocks to 12,000’+ you can find Paintbrushes in many different hues through most of the season.
Also called Mariposa Lily, the Sego Lily is a ubiquitous sight in most sagebrush terrain throughout the west on years when water has been adequate. Its purple center is one of the most stunning color shades of any flower around. Find them near Gunnison, Jack’s Cabin and the Taylor River.
Another water-loving plant, you’ll find this one wherever you find streams and ponds in the Valley. They often grow in solitary groups very close to the water.
As the name suggests, you’ll find Sky Pilots high in the alpine zones of the Gunnison Valley and often solitary. Given their awesome name, they’re one of our favorite flowers. Try the Copper Creek area or the high alpine zones near Pitkin if you want to find one.