Wildflowers: A High Country Botanical Garden

From late May through August, Colorado wildflowers dazzle Vail-area locals and vacationers alike with their color, beauty and diversity.

When is peak wildflower viewing in Colorado? Like our whitewater rafting, wildflower viewing season is variable and dependent on two things: the amount of snowpack from the previous winter and how that snowpack melts in the spring. But generally speaking, high country wildflowers bloom from the end of May through August.

As the snow melts and the flowers appear, different zones of elevation will have different peak seasons of flowers. For instance, we see some of the same flowers in June at 7,000 feet on our Castle Peak/Blue Lake Jeep Tour that we see at the end of July at 11,000 on our Historic Camp Hale Jeep Tour.

The number of varieties is astounding and fills thick wildflower field guides. In this post, we’re going to highlight three of the most popular flowers that we see in late-May through June on our Wildflower Viewing Jeep Tours.

Indian Paintbrush: This wildflower that blooms in red, orange, yellow and lavender, starts to appear on our lower- elevation Castle Peak Jeep trail in late May/early June and follows us up in elevation through the season as the snowpack melts

There’s a sweet legend, told by our Jeep Tour Guide Jey Henk, about how the flower got its name. The story claims that back before recorded time, the only color on the earth was in the wildflowers.  Everything else was void of color.  A Native American boy asked the chief why this was so and the chief replied that no one had taken the time yet to paint it.  So the boy took it upon himself to gather all the colors of the flowers and paint the rest of the world with them making the sky blue and the trees green and that is why this flower is called Indian Paintbrush.

Rocky Mountain Columbine: This flower, with its white and blue petals, is special for many reasons.  For one, it’s the Colorado State Flower. The blue petals represent Colorado’s blue sky; the white petals represent the snow; and the yellow stamen is symbolic of the gold that brought prospectors to the state in the late 1800s.

Secondly, this flower is short- lived.  Unlike Indian Paintbrush, it only thrives in one elevation zone, so it’s a little more elusive and special to find.  We typically see this flower on our Fulford Jeep Trail at elevations of 8500-10,000 feet in June to early July.  It’s an edible plant and is often used as a garnish at high-end restaurants, but it is illegal to pick it in Colorado.

Arrowleaf Balsam Root: This large yellow flower blooms early in the season before wild grasses are high enough to overshadow it. The name comes from the leaves that are eight to ten inches long and shaped like an arrow.


Yellow daisy-like wildflowers

It’s not uncommon to see entire meadows or mountain hillsides covered in this wildflower creating a beautiful golden sheen.

Hillside covered with yellow Colorado wildflowers

Colorado’s wildflowers are a like a high country equivalent of an urban botanical garden. But there’s no admission fee, proving that old saying: the best things in life are free.



Timberline Tours is the Vail-area’s premier whitewater rafting and backcountry jeep tours outfitter, also offering stand up paddle board (SUP) and duckie river trips on Colorado’s Eagle, Colorado, and Arkansas Rivers. All of our guided trips are open to Vail, Colorado visitors, locals, families, and corporate groups.

To book your Vail, Colorado adventure, call Timberline Tours at (970) 476-1414, or email us at info@timberlinetours.com.