Best Hikes to see Wildflowers
Two hikes boasting riotous wildflower displays and gorgeous mountain views.
By Kristen Russell & Roddy Scheer
June 15, 2012
Sourdough Ridge Trail
Sunrise, Mount Rainier
Difficulty: Easy; 2.5 miles, 400-foot elevation gain Location: Two hours from Seattle in the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park. Nearest town: Enumclaw, 60 minutes. $15 park entrance fee; dogs prohibited; nps.gov
For subalpine meadows bursting with extravagant color, head to Sunrise, the highest spot you can drive to on Mount Rainier. By early August, the world-famous wildflower displays there are in their full glory; acre upon acre of vivid lupine and paintbrush, avalanche lily and fireweed. On the road to Sunrise, pull over at the Sunrise Point lookout to take in sweeping views of five volcanoes: Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak and Mount Hood. Continue up to Sunrise at 6,400 feet, where the parking lot is flanked by wildflower meadows and the massive Emmons Glacier—and a visitor center and snack bar, natch. Start at the visitor center, where you can grab maps and wildflower guides or connect with a ranger-led hike (at 1 and 3 p.m. on summer weekends). The Sourdough Ridge Trail is an easy lollipop loop that meanders along a lovely ridge overlooking deep valleys—sometimes populated with marmots and mountain goats, and blanketed with a riot of colorful wildflowers.
Winds of Change Trail
Mount St. Helens
Difficulty: Easy, paved; .25-mile round-trip, minimal elevation gain Location: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument; follow State Route 504 from Interstate 5 at Castle Rock for 43 miles to large parking lot at Coldwater Ridge. Nearest town: Castle Rock, 43 miles. Northwest Forest Pass required; dogs prohibited; fs.usda.gov
Expecting a moonscape with little, if any, signs of life, most visitors to Mount St. Helens are blown away by the wildflowers carpeting the landscape. In midsummer, the formerly decimated hills around Coldwater Ridge—just a half-dozen miles from the volcano’s still-steaming crater—are awash in all the colors of the rainbow. The paved Winds of Change Trail gets nature lovers into the thick of the wildflower displays. Recently updated interpretive panels along the way explain why the deforested flanks of the mountain make such good habitat for opportunistic plants such as fireweed, lupine, paintbrush, daisy, pearly everlasting and other wild blooms. The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center is closed permanently, so head up the road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where you can look at interpretive displays and read eyewitness accounts of the 1980 eruption.