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First Night Out: Flora

Three hikes with scenic wildflower vistas

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, CO
Crater Lake Trail

At 10,000 feet, summer must cram its splendor into the few short weeks between final thaw and autumn snow. The upside? A reliable glut of midsummer wildflowers blooming furiously before the freezing nights return. More than 100 species grace this glacial valley, including showy aspen sunflower, scarlet paintbrush, and blue columbine. You’ll need your field guide right from the start on this 5-mile out-and-back, which kicks off with the bloom-choked meadows near the West Portal trailhead and views of the twin, 14,000-foot Maroon Bells perfectly reflected in Maroon Lake. Stars of countless Colorado postcards, the peaks owe their reddish tinge to iron-rich hematite in their sedimentary layers. Skirt the shore of Maroon Lake as you gain 500 feet in 1.5 miles through an aspen stand to Crater Lake, yielding still more flower-strewn clearings and views of 14,018-foot Pyramid Peak. Choose from a string of campsites lining West Maroon Creek just beyond the lake, directly at the base of 14,014-foot North Maroon Peak. Note: In summer, access is by bus only ($6/person) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; to park your car near the trailhead ($10), you have to arrive between 7 and 9 a.m.

Go Mid-July for peak blooms Get there From Aspen, take the second right at the CO 82 roundabout and follow signs to Aspen Highlands Village. Bus departs outside Four-Mountain Sports. Permit Required; free Map Trails Illustrated Maroon Bells/Redstone/Marble ($12, natgeomaps.com) Contact fs.usda.gov/whiteriver

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