Winter sports enthusiasts and vacationers flock to Crested Butte for its top-notch skiing (it was just ranked the second Snowiest Small Town in America). But this quaint Colorado town, nestled in the Elk Mountains, has a lot more to offer even when a thick blanket of snow does not cover it.
Spring and summer visitors heading to C.B., as its residents call it, will find a spectacular display of blooming flowers — a natural phenomenon that has gained Crested Butte the nickname “the wildflower capital of Colorado.”
Several mountain ranges, including the Maroon Bells and the San Juan Mountains to the south, have created the fertile soil and favorable climate wildflowers need to thrive. As a result, the vast meadows that surround the town become alive with vibrant pops of color once the snow starts to melt. Glacier lilies, lupines, and numerous sunflower varieties are some of the hundreds of wildflowers that grow here.
So, when is the best time of the year to visit and see the blooms?
“Typically, mid-June to late July is peak flowering [season],” Dr. David W. Inouye, University of Maryland biology professor emeritus, wrote in an email to Travel + Leisure. Inouye is also a principal investigator at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), located just north of Crested Butte.
Inouye explained that, in 2022, flowering may start earlier than usual because the region is on track to end up with a below-average snowpack. He added that the higher-altitude areas in Gunnison county — and in Colorado, in general — are where you can find the most diverse and abundant wildflowers.
“Typically, midseason flowers begin to express around the second and third week of July. The greatest abundance of species can be found blooming during this time,” Rick Reavis, interpretive guide at the RMBL Visitor Center, wrote in an email to T+L. He added that, according to estimates, there are around 1,500 species of wildflowers in the area.
“Folks typically come to the area expecting to see several types of flowers blooming in the mountain meadows all at the same time,” said Reavis. “Although, one may not be disappointed earlier or later in the season. There is a local saying that you can chase spring here in the mountains all the way into late August by following the snowmelt.”
Because Crested Butte is entirely surrounded by public land, visitors can freely explore the meadows.
“One of the trails that begin to see wildflowers earliest in the season is Lupine trail, and [it] runs along a south-facing slope just above town,” said Andrew Sandstrom, marketing director of the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association. A list of other trails can be found on Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association’s website, which regularly posts updated reports on the conditions of more than 60 trails in the area.