The sun is shining, the temperatures are warming up, and we’ve even seen some rain storms. This means a chance to get outside and hike, camp, and take in the gorgeous scenery of our area, and that includes a huge range of beautiful wildflower blooms.
“The Yellowstone is a wild-flower garden. Wander where you will, you have the ever-new charm, the finishing touch, the ever-refreshing radiance of the wild flowers.”
— Enos Mills, Your National Parks, 1917
Yellowstone and the surrounding area is home to more than 1,000 plant species, hundreds of which are wildflowers of all shapes and colors. When they begin to emerge, usually around late June and early July, the show of colors they put on is astounding. Before any hike into the park, be sure to pick up a laminated flower identification pamphlet or, for more detail, a wildflower reference book, either of which you can find here at local West Yellowstone shops, as well as in many of the gift shops inside the park. The National Park Service offers a list of common flowers and their bloom periods here. As you can see by this chart, there are quite a few flowers here that bloom throughout the summer and even into September, although spring and early summer are the peak times for taking in the widest variety of flowers.
What can you expect to see? Going into Yellowstone National Park from the West Entrance you’ll find purple-blue lupine, yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, and white mule’s ears, not to mention the range of reds and oranges seen on the Indian paintbrush.
Some popular Yellowstone National Park hikes that provide great wildflower viewing opportunities are the Mount Washburn Trail and and the Cascade Lake Trail. The hike up Mount Washburn is about 6 miles round trip with an altitude gain of about 1,400 feet. Because this trail passes through forest and then emerges above the tree line, you pass through different zones that will each offer their own variety of wildflower– be sure to keep an eye on shady areas and rocky outcroppings just off the trail to spot flowers you might otherwise miss. The view from the top of the mountain is an added bonus.
Cascade Lake Trail, in the Canyon area, is less of a climb and more of a meandering walk through meadows and along streams, offering a wide variety of wildflowers throughout the spring and summer. This hike is about five miles round trip and will take approximately three hours, but is rated as “easy” by the National Park Service. This trail is also known as a good place to spot wildlife!
(For more information on day hikes in YNP, check out this guide by NPS)
Boggy, marshy areas inside the park will be home to the bright magenta elephantheads (which do resemble the shape of an elephant’s head!), and the white Bog Orchid.
If your main focus is geysers, you’ll still be able to catch some hardy flowers that manage to grow in the harsher conditions near thermal areas and in the nearby meadows. This includes coralroot and few flowered shooting stars (a member of the primrose family) at Old Faithful, and blue-eyed grass at Midway Geyser Basin.
The Custer Gallatin National Forest, also in immediate proximity to West Yellowstone, offers trails and even Forest Service roads that allow for excellent wildflower viewing. Here you can find swaths of yellow glacier lilies and pale yellow columbines, low woods strawberries, and pink to purple sticky geraniums, just to name a few.
No matter where in our area you choose to explore, you’re bound to stumble across some beautiful blooms, and we encourage everyone to take a moment to stop and truly smell the flowers.
AUTHOR: MONIKA BLACK