By Sylvia Karcz
Nothing announces Spring for outdoor enthusiasts like pops of vibrant flowers breaking through on the trails. And what better way to celebrate the season –and the act of getting somewhere with the power of our own two feet!– than by planning a hike to admire wildflowers at their peak.
For those looking for a bit of inspiration, here are a few of our favorite hiking destinations across the U.S. for Springtime wildflowers. As always, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles on every hike. Don’t walk on, pick or disturb plant life, stay on established trails, and be a steward of the lands you love.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park // NORTH CAROLINA & TENNESSE
Over 1500 types of wildflowers and plants call the Great Smoky Mountains National Park home, making it an easy choice for a wildflower adventure.
Peak bloom is usually March and April, and yellow spicebush, sweetshrub, white trillium, and flame azaleas are just some of the vibrant blooms you can feast your eyes on. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some exceptional species at low to mid-elevations, like the Yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchid.
Since the park spans two states, I suggest narrowing down your trail search before setting out so you can maximize your time. On the North Carolina side, a good place to start is the Oconaluftee River Trail (3 miles) or the Chestnut Top Trail (5.5 miles.) In Tennessee, a favorite for wildflowers mixed with waterfalls –name a better combo!– is the Porter’s Creek Trail (4 miles) or the more challenging Middle Prong Trail (8 miles.)
Columbia River Gorge // Oregon & Washington
Wildflower meadows sprawled across the iconic slopes and plateaus of the Columbia River Gorge? Yes please! Prepare for one of the most impressive Spring-season views in the entire Pacific Northwest.
With over 800 wildflower species calling the area home, trails on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the gorge offer something unique around every bend. Expect brilliant displays of gems like purple lupine, yellow balsamroot, red Indian Paintbrush, and desert parsley.
For those on the Oregon side, the Mosier Plateau Trail (3.5 miles) is nothing short of iconic, but the Rowena Crest (2.5 miles) and Memaloose Hills Trail (3.3 miles) will also provide a visual feast.
Across the river in Washington, the Coyote Wall Trail and Dog Mountain Trail (both around 6.8 miles) will definitely turn up the challenge, but the views are worth every mile. On a clear day mid-Spring, you’ll not only get a blast of wildflowers, but an epic view of Mt. Hood.
Hill Country // Texas
From their beloved state flower, the bluebonnet, to firewheel, Indian paintbrush, horsemint, Mexican hat, and prairie verbena, Spring turns the rolling hillsides of south-central Texas into a splattering of color. While there are several scenic “wildflower drives” that wind through Hill Country landscapes that are worth checking off your list –like the 13-mile Willow City Loop, just outside of Fredericksburg– much of the roadside meadows are private land.
There is hiking hope in Hill Country, though! McKinney Falls State Park, right in Austin, offers plenty of trails teeming with vibrant flora, like the Onion Creek Trail (2.8 miles) and Homestead Trail (3 miles.) The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, just south of the city, offers many walking paths and gardens with informative wildflower displays as well. Other top contenders are Dripping Springs Ranch Park, with six miles of quaint paths for basking in trailside blooms, or nearby Charro Ranch Park.
Crested Butte // COLORADO
It seems like every mountain town in Colorado comes alive with colorful flora during the Spring and Summer months, but Crested Butte holds a special rank within the state. It’s even penned the Wildflower Capital of Colorado!
It’s a later start than most locations on our list, but once the snow starts melting late Spring, over 50 unique species of wildflowers start to dot the mountainsides and meadows around town. Lupine, corn lilies, larspur, and none other than the Columbine, the state flower, are just a few stars of the show. And while you can’t really go wrong with any trail in the greater area, the Columbine Trail (4 miles), Brush Creek (4.3 miles), Lupine Trail (5 miles) or Lower Loop Trail (6.5 miles) are surefire ways to get inspired with early-season sightings.
Anza-Borrego State Park // CALIFORNIA
There’s something about a dry desert landscape coming alive with a Springtime superbloom that attests to the magic in the world. If you haven’t witnessed it yourself, planning a hike in Southern California’s Anza-Borrego State Park would leave quite a mark.
Try to visit earlier in the year after a rain spell, as winter transitions into Spring. You’ll likely see the desert floor awash with desert lilies, beavertail, sand verbena gold poppies and dune evening primrose, amongst dozens of others. Each canyon within the park offers different varieties too, so it’s worth spending the time to explore different areas.
Short on time? The Cactus Loop Trail (0.75 miles) is a mellow wildflower-lined jaunt that provides quite a crash course of unique regional flora. The Coyote Canyon flower fields (mileage is up to you!) are another must, offering one of the most striking desert wildflower displays in the nation.