Southwestern Colorado bursting with wildflower blooms

Perhaps the most dynamic duo of the Colorado Mountains, stunning wild flowers and exquisite alpine lakes, come together early spring and don’t give up the show until late fall. Near town, wildflowers begin to bloom in May and last through June or early July; at elevations of 8,500 feet and higher, petals start popping in July and August when the snow is fully melted. At the base of the San Juan and La Plata Mountains with a wild river coursing through town, Durango offers exceptional wildflower and wild water combinations that range from roadside to adventure access. Thanks to local organization Trails 2000, trails in and around Durango are strategically maintained for hiking and biking, granting access to many of the most wondrous wildflower destinations.  Colorado Columbines, larkspur, monks head, Indian paintbrush, alpine phlox, orchids, glacier lilies and elephants head are just a few of the gems you stand to see. Whether by car, foot, bike or horseback, this unique region offers a floral feast you don’t want to miss.  


  • Vallecito Lake: Nestled in a valley nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, this Vallecito Lake boasts 12 beautiful miles of shoreline. A walking path skirts the lake, dotted with benches and picnic tables perfect for a rest or snack by the water. A “Flowers to Lake” brochure (available at the Durango Area Tourism Office) offers a guide to the plethora of floral activity dotting the hillside and lakeshores. One of the largest bodies of water in Colorado, this mountain lake is just a twenty-minute drive from downtown Durango and is surrounded by San Juan National Forest. It’s free fishing weekend  June 7-8 and both residents and non-residents alike are allowed to fish without a license or habitat stamp – all other rules and regulations still apply, of course.
  • Animas River: The Animas River is a unique and rare treasure that courses through the heart of downtown Durango, making public access to the mountain water plentiful. If you’re downtown, a walk on the Animas River Trail grants fabulous views and easy access to the water and the bounty of flowers that bloom on the banks in early spring. Rafting in town, or on the upper Animas, offers an entirely different perspective. A train ride on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad follows the snaking mountain river north of town through fields of wild flowers, epic canyons and towering mountain peaks.


  • Vallecito Creek: A stunning day hike, or a great four-to-five day backpack trip, this trail follows the rapidly flowing Vallecito Creek down a narrow glacial valley scattered with wildflowers and rich in wildlife. In the first two miles you will climb more than 500 feet above the creek for fabulous views before dropping down right beside the water. There are many side trails that lead to beautiful pools and are great for fishing or relaxing. The alpine meadows along the creek are full of blooming wildflowers from June – September, though they peak in July and August. 
  • Purgatory Flats/Lime Creek: This delightful trail winds down through a beautiful aspen forest alongside Purgatory Creek and drops quickly to Purgatory Flats, an open grassy valley one mile below the highway. Upstream, Lime and Cascade creeks converge, both teaming with trout. An old mining site sits at the confluence, and just below there the trail leads into Cascade Canyon. Three miles further on and you’ll run into the Animas River and the tracks of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. You 


  • The Colorado Trail: This incredible trail was completed in 1987 and leads all the way from Durango to Denver over nearly 500 miles of wild lands. But, you don’t have to embark on the multi-month endeavor to enjoy all that this epic trail has to offer. From Durango it’s a short drive to the trailhead at the Junction Creek Campground. You can embark on a backpack trip to Indian Ridge, nearly 30 miles along the route. The flowers begin at the creek in the first few miles, and remain throughout the hike, showing up in mass on Indian Trail Ridge. If you’re looking for a through trip instead of an out-and-back, check out a map of the La Plata Mountains for multiple options.  
  • Chicago Basin & Twin Lakes: Nestled within the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, Chicago Basin offers some of the most remote and beautiful terrain the state has to offer.  There are at least four different ways to access this incredible place. The longest, starting in Vallecito Creek, is at least a 3-night trip, while you could enjoy access to this incredible spot in a 2-night trip by starting from Purgatory Flats. Additional options for entering the basin are Lemon Reservoir, or a train ride to Needleton. Fortunately, any route chosen offer a practically endless landscape of jagged peaks, deep valleys, pristine lakes, rivers, alpine meadows, lush forests and boundless wildflowers.

About the Durango Area Tourism Office:
The Durango Area Tourism Office is a not for profit organization operating with the mission to promote Durango and La Plata County’s multitude of tourism attractions, events and services.  1-800-GO DURANGO, www.durango.org
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