Top Ten Parks for High-Summer Wildflowers

Big Sur wildflowers
Wildflowers at Big Sur

One of my most memorable outdoor trips was a recent summer trip up the California coast. From a car-park at Kirk Creek, I forged off on a trail into the Ventana Wilderness, intent on big views of the Pacific and explorations of old-growth redwoods. But as I switchbacked my way up the ramparts of the Santa Lucias, I realized that the real show was right in front of me in the heathered spectrum of the chaparral hillside I was climbing. So many colors mingled together, the browns and greens of dry grasses and shrubs were accented with bright bursts of color—the blooms of blue lupines, fiery coast paintbrush, and the oranges and yellows of poppies and monkeyflowers. To this day, it's the palette of that hillside that I remember best about that hike.

I also remember post-college road trip in which I pitched my tent in the middle of a broad meadow near Telluride, Colorado, stood and gazed at the ragged rock of the San Juans jutting up into the twilight, and felt that I was having an honest-to-god Rocky Mountain high. But when I poked my head out of the tent at dawn and found myself surrounded by a profusion of wildflowers, I knew I could get higher still.

Wildflowers are nature's filigree. We usually make a fuss over them only in springtime, when they are harbingers of the changing season. But in most parts, these natural designs are there throughout the warmer months. And in some places—mountain meadows and mixed-grass prairies, for example—the wildflower shows peak in June, July, and August.

So the next time you're readying for an outdoor trip, figure the little guys into your plans. We've picked out ten of the best places in the nation to forage around with a field guide in high summer, so slow down and take time to smell the flowers.


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