Spring and summer wildflower blooms make up for the wet, gloomy, gray months Washingtonians endure during the winter. As snow melts in the mountains, meadows come alive with a rainbow of wildflowers like lupine, beargrass and Indian paintbrush.
Wildflower season generally begins in late March in lower-altitude locations, like the Columbia River Gorge and Central and Eastern Washington, and runs through September, depending on a location’s altitude and snowmelt. Be sure to check trail conditions and the weather — some of these trails will be covered in snow into summer.
With warmer weather on the way, you could tour the whole state to catch the diverse display of wildflowers. Here are some of the best wildflower hikes throughout Washington.
(And, as much as you may want to get your Julie Andrews on and twirl in the sea of flowers, trampling them prevents future growth. Admire from the trail and avoid walking directly in the meadows.)
A must-do hike in the Olympic Peninsula’s Buckhorn Wilderness, exploring Upper Big Quilcene via Marmot Pass is simply marvelous. Plan a summer backpacking trip of at least one night to explore the many out-and-back hikes from Camp Mystery, about 4.5 miles into the hike and just a short jaunt below the pass.
The views from the pass will drop your jaw to the ground, but if you continue on the trail toward Buckhorn Lake, you’ll come across a meadow flush with wildflowers and complete with sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains.
As a bonus for dog owners, this trail sits outside of the Olympic National Park boundary, so dogs are allowed.
National Forest Development Road 2750, Jefferson County
Grassy Knoll and Big Huckleberry Mountain
For those on the hunt for balsamroot, Grassy Knoll near Carson in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a great, less-crowded alternative to nearby Dog Mountain. While still popular among flower peepers, the trail, which was once part of the Cascade Crest Trail (the original Pacific Crest Trail route), is not nearly as congested.
This is a great bang-for-buck hike. The trail starts out in a field of wildflowers, such as paintbrush, larkspur and shooting stars. It’s a steep climb up to Grassy Knoll, but you will forget about the elevation gain and sore muscles when you reach the knoll’s summit, where you’ll find more wildflowers and sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge.
Continue on and you’ll find a field of balsamroot on an open slope. You can turn around there or carry on toward the summit of Big Huckleberry Mountain if you want to extend the hike. If you opt for Huckleberry Mountain, your round-trip hike will total about 12 miles. It’s 4.4 miles round-trip to Grassy Knoll.
Junction of Forest Road 68 and Forest Road 511, Carson
Yellow Aster Butte
This popular North Cascades hike, located in the Mount Baker Wilderness in Whatcom County just south of the U.S.-Canada border, is teeming with color in mid-to-late summer, displaying wildflowers such as fireweed, paintbrush and, of course, aster. Come September, the hillsides are painted with the red, orange and yellow of huckleberry bushes.
The trail begins along steep switchbacks through an avalanche path before reaching a ridgeline that runs through a hillside meadow filled with flowers. Follow the Yellow Aster Butte Trail to reach the summit of Yellow Aster Butte, where your reward is breathtaking views of Mount Baker, Mount Larrabee and the Border Peaks in Canada.
National Forest Road 3065, Deming
From wildflower-filled meadows to views of Cascade peaks and the bonus of a fire tower lookout, Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness deserves a visit. If you can play hooky on a weekday, then do so, because this hike is popular. It’s also a slog, gaining 3,300 feet in 8.5 miles round-trip.
After the first 1.5 miles, you emerge from the woods to a wildflower rave. By summer, the meadows are illuminated with the bright colors of blue bells, paintbrush, columbine, glacier lilies, purple penstemon and more. Come fall, wildflowers give way to vibrant blueberry bushes.
The steep trail leads to the fire tower and views of prominent peaks like Mount Baker and Glacier Peak, among others. The peak sits at 6,500 feet, so check the weather and bring layers.
The fire tower was at risk of being removed but advocates fought to save it, and today it is protected by law. As you hike along the trail and take in the view from the deck of the fire tower, consider the members of the Friends of Green Mountain who mountain biked and hiked more than 12 miles carrying tools and supplies to preserve the lookout.
Forest Road 2680, Darrington
Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake
Easily reached from the Seattle area, the Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake hike near Snoqualmie Pass would be a challenging but doable after-work excursion. The 6.5-mile hike gains 2,420 feet in elevation, rewarding hikers with views of Mount Rainier, an alpine lake and meadows filled with wildflowers.
The display of wildflowers and mountain views will force you to stop and take plenty of breaks on this hike, so feel free to frequently catch your breath. Camping is available at Mason Lake, a small alpine pool with views of Bandera Mountain. It’s popular, so go early or snag a spot for a weekday overnight if you can.
End of Mason Lake Road, North Bend