Top Ten Parks for High-Summer Wildflowers

East & Central: Endless Prairie (Badlands National Park, South Dakota)

Badlands National Park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the United States. And while it may be the chance to explore the starkness of the badlands that draws you here, no summer visit should miss exploring the largest surviving prairie wilderness on earth, the Sage Creek Wilderness. This is mixed-grass prairie, with 56 recorded species of tall, mid, and short-grass varieties. Some 200 wildflower species, such as Missouri milkvetch and hood phlox, penstemon and purple coneflowers, are distributed throughout the waist-high grasslands. Bison, pronghorn, mule deer, wild turkeys, and sharp-tailed grouse inhabit the wooded draws and open areas, as do a variety of prairie songbirds, including the horned lark.

The beauty and resilience of the prairies that once spread across the heart of North America lies in its incredible diversity of species. There are more than 100 species of plants, and each is specially adapted to particular environmental circumstances—variations in temperature, precipitation, topography, and soil acidity. Well-drained soils will support drought-tolerant grasses such as western wheatgrass and blue grama, while just a short dip in the terrain away you might find little bluestem, a grass requiring more moisture. And woven into all of these grasses are a huge variety of wildflowers, from delicate irislike blue-eyed grass to blazing-red prairie lilies to the tall purple spikes of meadow blazingstar.

More North-Central Hot Spots

Glacier's not the only high country here, of course—there are more alpine meadows to be explored in nearby Flathead, Stillwater, Lolo, and Lewis and Clark NFs. To the south are Yellowstone and Grand Teton's biological riches, while to the west are the wild fastnesses of the Bitterroots and Sawtooths in Idaho.

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