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Colorado's wildflower capital puts on its best show in years

Several trails are offering amazing summer scenes. There's even a place to camp in the middle of the wildflowers.

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte is known for many things — hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and fishing, to name a few.

But one of the thing the mountain town is best known for are its stunning displays of summer wildflowers. (The town literally calls itself Colorado's wildflower capital.)

High snow totals brought a particularly dazzling display to the area this year.


Crested Butte, located about 220 miles southwest of Denver, hosts an annual wildflower festival in July. The 2019 week-long festival ran from July 5-14, but people can still see what some consider to be the best wildflower display in years.

Trails around Crested Butte are covered with the yellow, purple, blue and white flowers. 

Credit: kusa

Where to go to see the flowers

So many trails and roads are in bloom, that people are often overwhelmed by the choices.

Credit: kusa

The answer for the best trails depends on personal preference. 

Travel Crested Butte has a list of trails best for hikers, bikers, photographers and more. 

> Click/tap here to view some recommendations

Credit: kusa

One of the most popular in Crested Butte is the Snodgrass Trail, a 3.6-mile, moderately difficult route that's about a 10-minute drive to the trailhead from town. It links up to more trails in Washington Gulch. 

Credit: kusa
Snodgrass Trail in Crested Butte

The trail, located just past the ski area, provides the best view of the slopes while walking among the wildflowers.

Credit: kusa
Snodgrass Trail in Crested Butte

> The video below shows a 360-degree view of the Snodgrass Trail. 

For those looking for an easier hike or to go horseback riding, look for the Teddy's Winter Trail. There is a one-mile loop with a path for hikers and bikers, and another for horses.

Credit: kusa
Teddy's Trail in Crested Butte

While some areas are off-limits, the Brush Creek trailhead is open to hikers and bikers. It is located two miles south of Crested Butte off Highway 135. (The trailhead is located two miles after pavement ends.) There is parking for cars off to the side of the dirt road.  


Brush Creek Trail is a 4-mile, round trip loop that gains about 300 feet in elevation. 

Many of the trails around Crested Butte are at least 9,000 feet high. (Remember to take plenty of water, wear sunscreen and be prepared for changing weather conditions at this altitude.)

Credit: kusa

Many trails and roads around Crested Butte also go through private property. 

Pay close attention to the signs and only go in places where there are designated trails.

RELATED: The best hikes to see wildflowers in Colorado this summer

Camping in the middle of the wildflowers

Mount Crested Butte, a home rule municipality that's home to the Crested Butte Mountain resort, offers tent pads in an area along Gothic Road. The pads are available from June through early September.

Credit: kusa

The 26 sites are walk-in only and no dogs are allowed. Campers can only use the designated pad sites and have to limit their stay to seven days.   

Credit: KUSA

Other rules for inside the campground and for parking next to it are posted at the gate to the site. On a weekday in late July, two of the 26 tent sites were occupied.

Credit: kusa

How to take better photos of wildflowers

Being among all those flowers will very likely make you want to snap photos.

Here are a few tips from photographers when it comes to capturing the perfect shot:

1) Let the flower be the star. 

Get in close and find a background that is not distracting. Try to avoid having rocks, shadows or other objects that take the attention away from the main subject.   

2) Soft light is a good thing. 

Clouds can help diffuse light and help the colors become more vivid. Harsh shadows disappear in these conditions.   

Credit: kusa

3) Use a tripod.  

This will help you get sharper photos. It will also take away the tendency to just take a bunch of photographs and help you spend more time getting focused on that perfect flower.

4) Choose the right flower

Close-up pictures will highlight every imperfection. Look for petals and leaves that are in great shape. Also look for details that could be overlooked, such as raindrops, or bees or butterflies that could be making a visit.

5) Wind is not your friend.  

Strong gusts can make a plant move. Go out on a calm day when plants will stay in one spot. 

Credit: kusa

What plant is that?  Several apps can give you the answer

Once you get the perfect wildflower picture, several apps can help you identify a plant with just a photo from your phone.  

FlowerChecker uses a team of international experts to identify an unknown plant. Each request costs $1.

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Gunnison Mariposa Lily

PlantSnap has 585,000 species in its searchable database. The makers of this app say they can identify 90% of all known species of plants and trees. There is a free version of the app. The pro version costs $4.99.

PlantNet also identifies plants through photographs.  All the pictures that are collected are analyzed by scientists around the world, who are studying the evolution of plant biodiversity. PlantNet is looking for more photos of wild plants and pictures of the whole plant including thorns, buds and stems.

The science of wildflowers in a ghost town

About seven miles beyond Snodgrass Trail, a dirt path called Gothic Road leads to a ghost town with the same name.  

In 1879, Gothic was a mining town visited by President Ulysses S. Grant and home to nearly 1,000 people. By 1914 and the end of the silver crash, Gothic had been nearly abandoned.

Credit: kusa
On Gothic Road heading to Gothic

Today Gothic comes alive again in the summer for a far different reason:  Students join the staff at The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab. Since 1923, biologists have come to this area to study the plants that grow at this altitude.

Credit: kusa
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

Along Gothic Road, drivers will see a different set of warning signs. Sensitive research projects are looking at climate change on the plants that grow in this high mountain area. 

Those experiments have shown that heating the air around the wildflowers by just a few degrees can have a big impact. In those areas, there are fewer blooms, and those wildflowers start to face competition from other plants.

Credit: kusa

Crested Butte's Wildflowers vs. California's 'Superbloom'

Crested Butte's wildflower season has been compared to the so-called "superbloom" that happened in California in spring. 

That superbloom was a result of frequent storms that soaked Southern California during the winter. Most places saw 150% to 200% of normal rainfall. 

The result was a dazzling display of orange poppies across California hillsides. (Parts were so eye-catching, it caused traffic jams.)

RELATED: BLOG: A wet winter creates a 'superbloom' that can be seen from space

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Poppies bloom in Lake Elsinore, CA in March 2019
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Crested Butte wildflowers along Brush Creek Road in late July 2019

Similar manmade issues have occurred in Crested Butte, such as trampled flowers along the trails.

Signs along trails stress to people not to pick, trample or cut the wildflowers.

Along Brush Creek Road on the south end of Crested Butte, signs also warn people to stay on the road. (Unfortunately, the first signs of a new trail can already be seen where people have tried to climb into the flower fields.)

The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association offers information on trail etiquette and updates on trail conditions for areas where people are allowed to ride.  

Click/tap here for a link to their summer trail reports.

Another sign in that area asks people to be a better human and to stay out of the flowers. The sign says: "This trail was built from selfishness."

Credit: kusa


It's a good reminder to people to be kind to the environment so that future generations can enjoy the wildflowers and scenery as much as people can today.

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