15 Favorite Rocky Mountain Wildflowers

wildflowers header

Some of my very favorite wildflowers are the tiny-but-tough alpine flowers that only the privileged few who hike up into the high altitudes get to see. They always makes me feel grateful for such an opportunity!

There are others, though, that are just as beautiful and easier to access. I especially tend to notice the ones that we don’t see in the Midwest.

Here’s a list of my favorite Rocky Mountain wildflowers we’ve seen (so far!):

Alpine Phlox

These look very similar to the creeping phlox we can buy at local garden centers and keep in our gardens at home. They carpet an area with their ground-hugging leaves. These in the photo above are a delicate lavendar, but there’s also a white variety.

alpine phlox

This photo was taken above 10,000 feet in the Snowy Range Mountains of southeast Wyoming in late June.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

These cheerful yellow flowers grow prolifically in large patches in subalpine sunny meadows in and near the mountains. They’re quite tall, a foot or two, with blooms 2-3 inches across. They bloom in spring and early summer.

arrowleaf balsamroot

This patch was growing in Grand Teton National Park.

Beargrass

One of the most distinctive and striking of the Rocky Mountain wildflowers, beargrass is a tall, sun-loving beauty. Glacier National Park is known for these—it’s so beautiful to see the mountain meadows full of them during the summer.

beargrass

These were growing in the Two Medicine Campground along the road, and we saw tons of them on our hikes in the area.

Bitterroot

What an unfriendly name for these beautiful pink flowers! And a very misleading name, too, as the roots are edible and were widely used by the Native Americans for medicinal purposes.

bitterroot

Notice the lack of green leaves—interesting! We saw these in Sinks Canyon State Park near Lander, Wyoming, a subalpine environment.

Blue Flax

Another common sight in sunny meadows all over the US, including the mountain states, blue flax is a small gorgeous blue flower atop a thin stem 18-20 inches tall. In the mountains they bloom in early-mid summer.

blue flax

They’re very common, including in dry, sandy conditions. These were in Vedauwoo (Vee-dah-voo) Recreation Area just outside of Laramie, Wyoming.

Bluebell

There are several varieties of Bluebell—these were in Colorado, near Boulder. The trumpet-shaped blooms are slightly lighter than the Bluemist, listed next. Also similar to Sky Pilot, but they bloom up the stalk rather than in clusters.

bluebell

These particular ones loved the sunny open meadows of the Flatirons, surrounded by Ponderosa pine. What a beautiful sight in late May!

Bluemist Penstemon

These delicate blue trumpet-shaped blooms are native in Wyoming and Colorado. They grow in dry, rocky conditions on mountain slopes, in the foothills and other seemingly inhospitable areas. What a beautiful blue color they are!

bluemist penstemon

(I don’t remember where I saw this one! Somewhere out west…)

Glacier Lily

This is my favorite alpine wildflower! Just a few inches tall, each plant has a single, delicate bright yellow flower.

glacier lily

This photo was also taken up the in the high altitudes of the Snowy Range Mountains. They were all over in this harsh rocky environment, blooming shortly after the snow melted in late June.

We also saw a meadow full of them up on Logan Pass in Glacier, also in late June.

Mountain Dryad (Yellow and White)

Close neighbors in proximity of the glacier lilies, these reminded me of primrose. Also ground-hugging but with lots of bold flowers that are quite large for the plant size. These alpine inhabitants can be white or yellow, as shown in the photo above.

mountain dryad

These were also in the Snowies.

Scarlet Paintbrush (Indian Paintbrush)

This bright red beauty is common in sunny meadows in subalpine terrains. They’re taller—up to 2 feet—and so eye-catching. They bloom all summer (which, in the mountains, is June through August).

scarlet (indian) paintbrush

These particular paintbrushes were in Sinks Canyon State Park, in south-central Wyoming.

Shooting Star

Even though my wildflower guide says these can grow to 16 inches, the ones we saw (pictured above) were just about 8 inches tall, along a dirt mountain road at about 8,000 feet (south-central Wyoming). We almost missed them!

shooting star

The bright pink flowers droop down in a way that reminds me of columbine.

Silvery Lupine

Since I love the lupine that’s naturalized along Minnesota’s North Shore so much, I was super excited to see the West’s native variety. The flower heads aren’t as densely clustered, but the leaves are unmistakable!

silvery lupine

The Bighorn Mountains (where these were) seemed to have the most abundant lupine patches—at least of the places we visited in 2017. Around 8,000 feet, lupine thrive in the cool summers in sunny meadows.

Sky Pilot

What an interesting name for a flower! Maybe because they grow on alpine mountainsides! You’ll find them snuggled in among rocks and just a foot tall, or so. Another trumpet-shaped flower, but this one grows them in clusters rather than all the way up the stalk.

sky pilot

These were at 10,000+ feet in the Snowies in southeast Wyoming.

Wild Geranium

Another flower for the sunny subalpine foothills. The blossoms look similar to flax, but the leaves are distinctly different. The color is, of course, different too. They can grow quite tall, up to a couple of feet, and bloom throughout the summer season.

wild geranium

The leaves look very similar to a “tame” geranium, the kind we grow in our gardens, so my educated guess about this was correct. These were in Sinks Canyon State Park, Wyoming.

Wild Rose

The wild rose is probably one of the most adaptable shrubs around. In the west they’ve made their way into the subalpine areas to help decorate the open meadows with their bright pink flowers. Later in the season each flower develops into an edible rose hip, also brightly colored. Watch out for their thorny stems, though!

wild rose

This bush was also in Sinks Canyon.

We’ll see what else we find on our next trip out there!

Related posts:

Sources:
Jamie Simonson from wyo.gov…thanks, Jamie!
wildflower.org
Colorado Wildflowers
“Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Pocket Guide” by David Dahms (©1999 David Dahms and published by Paragon Press) (Listed on Amazon for an atrocious price…I found it at the Ranger Station in the Snowy Mountains for $6.95.)

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