Summer in the Rocky Mountain West is as fleeting as it is astoundingly beautiful. In Laramie, Wyoming, residents speak of summer with a tone of reverence and appreciation that approaches the spiritual. The area’s long winters, though full of recreational opportunities themselves, make extra love for the summer understandable. Plus, it’s hard to beat summer in the mountains. At 7,165 feet, Laramie is already as high as or higher than some mountainous terrain, meaning that temperatures are usually pleasantly warm but never blistering.
The warm weather brings about dramatic and welcome change, both to the town and to the mountains that surround it. Much of this dramatic seasonal change is characterized by the disappearance of snow and the emergence of vegetation, including stunning displays of many different species of wildflowers. In this post, we’ll point you toward some of the best areas for wildflower viewing around Laramie.
Loop Trail at Happy Jack Recreation Area
A mere 12.7 miles east of Laramie lies the Happy Jack Recreation Area. Though this area is considered to house some of the best mountain biking trails around Laramie, you’ll want to travel on foot for the best wildflower viewing.
Happy Jack is an idyllic mountain landscape, with lush aspen forests, conifer forests, open meadows, and valleys dotted with beaver ponds. Though you’ll spot wildflowers pretty much wherever you wander around this trail system, our recommendation is a 5.3-mile moderately-rated loop that follows the Pole Creek, Blackjack, Middle Aspen, Haunted Forest, and Old Happy Jack trails.
Wildflowers along this loop are prolific during the right time of year and may include Arnica, wild roses, Mountain Lupine, and more. Look out for Golden Banner, which grows in large patches below aspen trees and is sometimes referred to as “False Lupine” for its pea-shaped flowers that resemble, you guessed it, Lupine. You’re also likely to spot bright red Indian Paintbrush, Wyoming’s beloved state flower.
Best time to go: mid-June to early July
Summit Trailhead / Headquarters
The Summit Trailhead is right off I-80 at the Summit Visitor Center and connects with the Headquarters Trail at 1.5 miles. Part of the Happy Jack trail system, Headquarters follows the spine of the Sherman Mountains and traverses open meadows, rugged rock formations, and conifer forests. Its panoramic views span several mountain ranges and provide a terrific backdrop for wildflower viewing. Wildflower meadows mix with Ponderosa Pine groves and speckled granite rock formations for a striking effect.
Best time to go: mid June to early July
The Snowy Range Mountains
Though last on this list, the Snowy Range is our top recommendation for wildflower viewing. The “Snowies” lie just 35 miles west of Laramie in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The higher elevations of this area mean cooler temperatures, which in turn result in a longer and more prolific wildflower blooming season.
Aside from the sheer quantity and variety of wildflowers, part of what makes wildflower viewing in the Snowies so amazing is the stunning backdrop the area offers to the flowers themselves. A rich glacial history is responsible for creating this spectacular alpine habitat, leaving rugged granite peaks and crystal clear lakes in its path.
You can spot wildflowers in the range as soon as the snow starts melting, but the best time to go is July and early August. This time of year brings a gorgeous array of wildflowers to an already breathtaking landscape.
One of the best ways to view wildflowers in the Snowies is actually from your vehicle, as you travel along the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. Along the edges of the byway you’ll enjoy impressive displays of wildflowers, including large patches of Indian Paintbrush. Lupine is also prolific along the byway and contrasts beautifully with the backdrop of the snowy peaks.
While you can see a lot from your car, definitely get out and explore, too! The Snowies are full of scenic hikes made all the more enjoyable by species after species of colorful wildflowers. Marsh Marigolds, Columbine, Alpine Forget-Me-Nots, Moss Campion, Hairy Arnica, Yellow Avalanche Lily, Queen’s Crown, Alpine Laurel, and Rocky Mountain Iris are just some of the many species you might encounter.
Given that wildflowers abound all over the range, you really can choose a ‘wrong’ place to explore. Still, if you are looking for specific recommendations, some of our favorite hikes for wildflower viewing are the Gap Lakes Trail and Sheep Mountain Trail. The Gap Lakes trail treats you to views of wildflowers juxtaposed against turquoise lakes and looming peaks. The top portion of Sheep Mountain Trail traverses a wide basin that supports snowmelt streams, wetlands, and a wide variety of wildflowers.
As you feast your eyes on the flowers, keep your vision peeled for wildlife, too. Wildlife sightings are not uncommon and may include critters such as pica, marmots, foxes, moose, and, less frequently, black bears.
Best time to go: July to early August