April 20th, 2015

National Park Blooms: Where to See the Best Wildflowers

Spring is here, along with the best blooms of the year. And there is no better place to see them than America’s national parks.

America’s national parks offer something different and amazing to explore with each change of the seasons. The Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks cloak the countryside with gorgeous autumnal leaves each fall, Acadia and Rocky Mountain national parks sparkle with winter magic, and Crater Lake and the Apostle Islands national parks provide sweet relief with watersports in the summertime. And then there are the few parks that bring new life to spring with their stunning wildflower blooms. Here are the five best parks to visit and take in this colorful season.

Los Padres National Forest, California

In the Los Padres National Forest, wildflower blooms come early, blossoming from the beginning of March and continuing through May. Figueroa Mountain and its valleys, located in the heart of the Los Padres forest, is known for its wildflower displays, including flowers such as shooting stars, chocolate lilies, clematis, hummingbird sage, and milk maids. But the most famous blooms are the California poppies, which are plentiful and indigenous to the area. The Los Padres Forest Service even offers a wildflower tour in late March with a ranger that guides you through the best of the 875,000 acres of designated and primitive forests Los Padres offers. It’s a four- to five-hour excursion, so be sure to grab your daypack and fill it with some snacks and water.

Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Crested Butte holds the official title of “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” and for good reason. Flowers take over meadows and trails from the spring all the way through the summer months, and progress in variety and color throughout the season. Shades of red, blue, purple, and yellow appear in sunflowers, Indian paintbrushes, delphiniums, and lupines. Almost all of the trails in the Gunnison National Forest burst with these wildflower varieties. In early July, the town of Crested Butte even hosts a weeklong flower festival, so it’s the perfect opportunity for blooming enthusiasts to take a trip!

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park visitors know that spring has come as soon as the yellow glacier lilies begin to poke through the snow and ice. The park also fills with daisy, monkey flower, geranium, paintbrush, and lupine wildflower varieties during July and August. Logan Pass and Hidden Lake are some of the best areas of the park—which spans more than a million acres—to see the flowers.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

There is a reason why the south side of Mount Rainier National Park is known as “Paradise.” And it has a lot to do with the flowers. The wildflower meadows stretch out in front of incredible snow-speckled mountain vistas. Peak bloom time varies year to year and is dependent on unpredictable weather patterns, but the park never ceases to impress with its late-spring, early-summer show of wildflower diversity. Varieties include mountain bog gentian, tiger lilies, fairy slippers, and evergreen violets. In late August, early frosts can cause changing leaf colors and seeding for an even more diverse landscape. Don’t miss the opportunity to photograph any of the unique flowers.

Fort Pierre National Grassland, South Dakota

The expanse of the Great Plains comes to life in the spring and summer. During this time, the endless grasslands are sprinkled with native wildflowers that have blossomed here since the West was discovered by early explorers. Prairie grasses, along with bluebell, blue flax, red columbine, purple coneflower, daisies, and bellflowers teem throughout the 116,000 acres of the park. And the flat land allows for you to catch sight of some wildlife, such as burrowing owls, coyotes, bison, and prairie dogs.

Want to take your visit to the next level? Most of these national parks allow for backcountry camping (as long as you reserve a campsite and obtain a camping permit). Overnighting it in the park will give you the opportunity to see even more blooms in the varied lights of a sunrise and sunset. What are your favorite spots to take in the beautiful transition of spring?

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