Best Wildflowers in the West
by Damian Fagan
Wildflowers bursting with color define summer in the West. The show starts in spring at lower elevations and follows the receding snow line up the mountains through fall. A palette of wildflowers paint mountain meadows and woodland forests, offering exceptional opportunities for viewing. Remember to avoid busy bees or colorful butterflies pollinating the flowers before a close-up . Find some of the best fields in Oregon and Idaho.
IRON MOUNTAIN Renowned for its diversity and abundance of summer wildflowers, Iron Mountain straddles the Cascade Range near Sweet Home. The peak contains various habitats including old-growth forests, mountain meadows and rock gardens that support more than 300 species of flowering plants. A 6.5-mile loop trail starts at Tombstone Pass on Highway 20, and leads wildflower enthusiasts past blooming Queen’s cup, rock penstemon, beargrass and elephant’s head before topping out at the peak’s lookout platform.
EIGHT DOLLAR MOUNTAIN Unique serpentine soils of the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains are the remnants of weathered metamorphic rocks in Southern Oregon. One prime area outside of Selma is the 7.5-mile-long TJ Howell Botanical Drive, which winds along Eight Dollar Mountain and crosses the Illinois River. Numerous pullouts provide opportunities to view the colorful display of Western coneflower, Howell’s mariposa lily, and the fire-red snow plant. The 0.3-mile Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside boardwalk is wheelchair accessible and overlooks a fen with California pitcher plants.
METOLIUS RIVER The wildflower-studded Metolius River Trail starts and ends at the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery near Camp Sherman. View huge trout in the hatchery’s overflow pond before striding out on the fairly level 6-mile Metolius River Trail loop. Lupines and bog orchids dot the riverbanks, while tiger lilies and Washington lilies bloom along the trail. Afterwards, visit the rustic Camp Sherman Store for a snack.
CAMAS PRARIE Outside the charming town of Fairfield, explodes with wild camas lily blossoms in early summer. Historically, the prairie attracted Indigenous tribes who gathered here to harvest and prepare the edible camas bulbs for consumption. Gravel roads provide access to the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh Wildlife Management Area for photographic opportunities of this wildflower spectacle. Nearby, Soldier Mountain also boasts spectacular displays of blooms in summer.
SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS Located in central Idaho, the Sawtooth Mountains (pictured) encompass an area of nearly 700 square miles dotted with alpine lakes, mountain meadows and jagged peaks. Numerous trails access meadows bursting with wildflowers and mountain lakes ringed with columbine, larkspur, lupine, monkey-flower and balsamroot. The small town of Stanley is a nearby basecamp from which to explore wildflowers along trails either directly from town or access higher elevation areas around Pettit, Redfish or Fourth of July lakes.
Plan a Trip
When visiting a showcase of nature’s palette, remember to be respectful by parking in designated parking spaces and staying on pathways. To minimize impact and maximize experience, consider visiting during off-peak hours or on weekdays.
Don’t forget a camera or smartphone to take plenty of photos, but as tempting as it may be, please don’t pick the wildflowers.