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There’s a reason we call it Colorful Colorado. Stretched along the rippled horizon in front of me, a dazzling cornucopia of blooms dot the sky-kissing meadow like the mountain gods spilled their box of crayons. It creates a surreal, trippy effect, but I’m not dreaming. I’m finally experiencing the wildflower-shellacked hike over 12,465-foot West Maroon Pass—and it’s far better than a cursory Google image search led me to believe.
You don’t have to be a local to know about this one: The Four Pass Loop is bucket-list material for backpackers across the globe. The fourth mountain pass on the legendary route—West Maroon Pass—is perhaps equally famous for its mid-summer wildflower displays, which is why I finally tick it off on a 10.5-mile dayhike from Maroon Lake in Aspen to the East Fork trailhead outside Crested Butte on a mid-July day.
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It’s a leg-burner of a climb: nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain in 6.5 miles to the saddle, but there is no shortage of pretty scenery to gape at. From the trailhead, the explosion of color begins almost immediately, with pops of yellow cinquefoil and white death camas between wispy blades of meadow grass. Pockets of columbines—purple, pink, white, and blue—usher you higher. Then, with a camera roll packed full, you drop off the backside of West Maroon Pass into wildflower glory, where I stand now: hemmed between wine-colored slopes, amid a patchwork of bright-green alpine meadows covered in showy white and yellow daisies, magenta elephant heads, and red thimbleberries.
- Length: 10.5 miles, one way
- Difficulty: Challenging
- Starting trailhead: Maroon Lake (39.09859, -106.94066)
- Ending trailhead: East Fork (39.02467, -107.05069)
- Other beta: Plan on arranging a shuttle with a friend or Dolly’s Mountain Shuttles. Expect to negotiate lingering snowfields above treeline.
4 Unbelievable Wildflower Hikes in Colorado
Wildflower season is a bit delayed this year thanks to the late snowmelt, so expect colorful blooms to stick around the high country all summer. Here, four more wildflower walks closer to home.
Gore Lake, Vail
- Distance: 12.5 miles, out and back
- Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
Tunnel into the Gore Range on this epic in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Few trails (and fewer hikers) mean any trip into the Gores is going to be a bit of a haul—this one is a little over six miles one way. But the crown jewel—Gore Lake—is surrounded by meadows of alpine flora. Consider packing overnight gear and camping at an established site nearby to break up the mileage.
Gold Hill Trail, Frisco
- Distance: 3 miles, out and back
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
This easy-access trailhead is just off I-70 and the distance is manageable, even for families. But that doesn’t mean the scenery is any less stunning. The area has seen a lot of fire mitigation in recent years, so between all that downed timber? Tons of flowers.
Black Powder Pass, Breckenridge
- Distance: 3.5 miles, out and back
- Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
Boreas Pass is a gem no matter the season, but its abundance of wildflowers (which can often be seen through a car window) make mid-summer its prime time. Park your vehicle and power yourself into the thick of it on the Black Powder Pass Trail, a route that leaves from the top of the pass en route to the saddle beneath Bald Mountain. Vibrant petals line the path.
West Ute Trail, Estes Park
- Distance: 9 miles, out and back
- Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
A day in Rocky Mountain National Park is never a bad idea. Begin your hike high at the Alpine Visitor Center (11,796 feet) and descend toward Milner Pass, where an array of alpine and subalpine wildflowers such as vivid yellow sunflowers and pale white American bistort frame the trail. If you don’t want to deal with the return trip (and subsequent climb back to your car), plan a shuttle in advance by leaving one vehicle at the Milner Pass trailhead.