Go Outside: The Wildflowers Edition
Where to go and what you can expect to see
Last week, before the heat dome settled over much of Western Canada, I (Cailynn) enjoyed a hike with my parents on Forgetmenot Ridge, a trail near Bragg Creek none of us had been on before.
While the mountain views were incredible, our attention was also focused on something much smaller and closer… the countless colourful wildflowers just starting to dot the landscape.
Forgetmenots, cinquefoil, rock cress and vetch brightened the grassy slopes (see the photo above), while we spotted sweetflower rock jasmine and an uncommon alpine springbeauty among the jagged rocks. Wildflower season is here!
Sweetflower rock jasmine
For more on where to go to see wildflowers, when to go, and what you might be able to see, we turned to our resident wildflower enthusiast Viv (who also happens to be our dear mom).
Hiking with Viv is always a treat, but especially so during wildflower season, when she is quick to identify every flower we pass and often spots delicate beauties that we’ve cluelessly walked right by. She’s been hiking in the Rocky Mountains for 45 years and still looks forward to each and every wildflower season. Why? She says she’s forever impressed at the amazingness of nature — how such beautiful flowers find a way to thrive in harsh mountain environments.
Where should I go?
As long as you slow down and pay attention, you’re likely to see wildflowers on pretty much any hike you take on. That being said, some trails are certainly better for flower spotting than others. Viv recommends Helen Lake in Banff National Park, on the Icefields Parkway, Jumpingpound Ridge Trail in Kananaskis and Many Springs Trail, a short loop with interpretive signs. Wherever you go, be sure to stay on the trail!
Larkspur (purple), paintbrushes (red) and cinquefoil (yellow), seen from the Jumpingpound Ridge Trail.
When should I go?
This is a tricky question because different flowers bloom at different times, the best time to see flowers can vary year by year depending on the weather, and what’s in bloom can depend greatly on location. Jumpingpound Ridge, for example, is at a lower elevation than Helen Lake, so wildflowers bloom earlier. It can be helpful to do some research before you go and check trail reports to see what others are seeing.
In general, mid-July to mid-August tends to be the prime time to go in the Kananaskis/Banff area. It’s earlier in Waterton National Park, with mid-June being when you’ll likely see the most variety (including gorgeous orchids like this).
How can I identify the flowers I see?
You can do some research beforehand to familiarize yourself with common wildflowers in the area you’re hiking in, such as these resources from Alberta Parks and Banff National Park. Viv recommends the book Wildflowers of Alberta. Cailynn recommends hiking with someone who knows flowers and can help you look for them and identify what you’re seeing as you see it. You can also take photos while you’re out and use Google Lens once you’re home to identify what you saw.
Here’s some other flowers you might see:
Yellow lady’s slipper orchids
Glacier lily (yellow) and western anemone (white)
Moss campion (purple) and alpine yellow fleabane
Seedheads of western anemone (commonly known as hippy heads) and arnicas (yellow)
Go Outside is taking a break next Tuesday. We will be back July 13 with an exciting announcement!