Colorado Beauty – the Wildflowers from Butler Gulch

August 10, 2014

One of these days I’m going to write a blog about my favorite locations to photograph Colorado wildflowers amid sweeping landscapes. (Visit my Colorado Wildflowers Gallery for more images).On that list would be a little known area (except to locals) close to Berthoud Pass called Butler Gulch. In the summer of 2014 the colors were the best I’d seen – and I’d visited the iconic Colorado locations like American Basin near Lake City and Yankee Boy Basin near Ouray. I imagine the landscapes near Crested Butte were excellent this summer, but I hit that location a bit early.

Butler Gulch is located on Highway 40 past the town of Berthoud Falls. The turnoff is at the first switchback just before you start the climb up Berthoud Pass. Turn left before the first switchback. You’ll follow the road past the Big Bend picnic area a few miles before eventually turning onto an easy dirt road (you’ll have to turn right because you’ll encounter a gate – if you go straight that is restricted access – I think it is a mine). After another mile or so the road will split with the right branch heading uphill. Go left and you will reach a parking area in ~100 yards. Park, walk past by the gate on an old jeep road, and start hiking as the road makes a sweeping left curve before starting a gradual ascent. The trail to the best meadows for wildflowers is just over two miles and about 1000 vertical feet . There are parts of this hike that become a grunt but nothing too bad. The most treacherous portions of this hike are a few water crossings that require short traverses over trees laid across the water. Even these parts are not too difficult, but crossing them in the dark can be a bit sketchy (I usually have to do this because I head up there for sunrise.) Last year I did take a misstep and went down to my knee in a very cold stream. That made for a long morning.

Colorado wildflowers are abundant in July and August in Butler Gulch, near Winter Park.

Wildflowers fill the meadow in this panorama image from Butler Gulch near Berthoud Falls, Colorado.

Eventually you’ll come to a large cascade before heading left and making a few semi-switchbacks. This portion of the trail will shoot you out at a clearing that is the upper portion of the gulch. Continue here for a few hundred yards and off to your left you’ll find the flowers. You can continue on to some old mine ruins or even hike up to the ridge. But if you’ve come for Colorado wildflowers, here you’ll find daisies, various colors of paintbrush, elephants, and even columbine on the rocky outcrops to your left. Walk over to the stream 50 yards or so to your right for some images of flowing snow-fed waters lined with pink and red flowers. If you arrive really early – like about 4am – you can even photograph the Milky Way rising over the ridge.

Butler Gulch wildflowers sleep as the Milky Way passes overhead on a summer night in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

The Milky Way rises over Colorado Wildflowers in a little-known basin called Bulter Gulch.

Butler Gulch is one of my favorite Colorado locations for wildflowers and landscapes. I make the trek up here several times each summer. Many folks use this trail, so go early because parking can be limited. If you get up there before sunrise, you’ll have the place to yourself unless I’m up there!


~ Rob



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