Best Alpine Wildflower Hikes

Late summer means the high country has finally melted out—and as the snow leaves, the blooms move in. Check out one of these seven hikes for colorful meadows just below the peaks.
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Dewey and Anderson Lakes

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, WA

Late August and early September on this 6-mile out-and-back means ripe blueberries scattered among the yarrow, gentian, and Indian paintbrush, providing snacks to go with the wildflower show. A number of campsites dot the shores of both lakes, with small beaches perfect for wading or swimming from. Head up the eastern end of the Dewey Lake Trail for views of nearby Mt. Rainier.

Permit day use pass ($5, available at trailhead) or NW Forest Pass Contact Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Broken Top Crater

Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

Late summer and early fall are the only times the summit of this extinct stratovolcano is accessible. Take advantage of that narrow window to hike through primrose monkeygrass, penstemon, and yellow alpine tarplant on your way to a remarkably turquoise lake, looking out at the Three Sisters and eastern Oregon from the 8,150-foot crater.

Permit day use pass ($5) Contact Willamette National Forest

Four Lakes Loop

Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA

With 2,050 feet of elevation gain in a 5.2 mile loop, this trail definitely isn’t easy, but you’ll forget the climb every time you drop into one of the loops four cirques. The trail loops around Siligo Peak, with views of the jagged granite peaks of the Trinity Alps between lake basins. Hike the trail in September to catch white Solomon’s seal, pink monkeyflower, and bright purple and blue fringed gentian.

Permit none Contact Trinity Alps Wilderness

Picket Mountain Trail

Sawtooth Wilderness, ID

Climb from the Payette River through an old burn and into alpine meadows full of colorful blooms on this 15-mile round-trip hike, taking in broad Sawtooth vistas on the way. The peak is one of only two in the Sawtooth Range with a trail all the way to the summit.

Permit Wilderness permit required; available at trailhead Contact Sawtooth Wilderness

Pawnee Pass

Indian Peaks Wilderness, CO

This hike starts from the Long Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area ($12 per 3 days per vehicle fee for entry) before heading into the Indian Peaks, where the trail rounds Long Lake before heading up to the 12,541-foot pass. Soon after the lake the climb begins, eventually switchbacking up a ridge to the pass itself. Tear yourself away from the views of Niwot Ridge, Navajo Glacier, and Apache Peak to look for larkspur and the bright yellow and orange flower clusters of western wallflower.

Permit none Contact Indian Peaks Wilderness

Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliffs

Crawford Notch State Park, NH

The 200-foot cascade of Arethusa Falls is only one of the many highlights of this 5-mile loop hike. Atop the cliffs you’ll find open air until the forested peaks of Crawford Notch and Mt. Bemis, while closer to your feet delicate white fleabane and deep pink firewood bloom.

Permit none Contact Crawford Notch State Park

Sugarloaf Loop

Shenandoah National Park, VA

Goldenrod and wild sunflower paint the meadows of Shenandoah with the bright yellow of summer sunshine well into fall, while asters add a dash of purple. See how many you can spot on the 5.5-mile Sugarloaf loop between views of Shenandoah’s rolling blue hills.

Permit park entrance fee ($30 per vehicle per week) Contact Shenandoah National Park