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10 great places to see spring wildflowers

By Larry Bleiberg
USA Today

Mount Ashland listed in USA Today as a top 10 location to see wildflowers!

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When winter subsides, Mother Nature celebrates with wildflowers. And often the blooms appear in stunning settings, says Bob Gibbons , author of Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World (Princeton University Press, $27.95). Gibbons shares some of his favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg  for USA TODAY.

Mount Rainier, Wash. 

It was the spectacular floral display on this Pacific Northwest volcano that inspired Gibbons to write his book. "It's fabulous. I've been about four times." The easiest sites to visit are Paradise Meadows and Sunrise, but don't plan to come until late July or August. "The reason Rainer is so good is that it gets phenomenal high winter snow, in the average year 70 to 100 feet," Gibbons says. 360-569-2211; nps.gov/mora

Crested Butte, Colo. 

When the snow begins to recede in July, the grasslands above the treeline present an unforgettable show. "There's more variety than other places. You get lovely things like the blue columbine, which is the state flower," Gibbons says. The Rocky Mountain town hosts an annual wildflower festival offering tours and even yoga classes in a blooming meadow. 800-814-7988; crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com

White Mountains, N.H. 

Beginning in late May, the alpine areas of this New England range begin to blossom, starting with orchids. Hundreds of other species make an appearance throughout the season. But the crowds come out in June for displays of blue and purple lupines, which are celebrated in an annual festival in Franconia Notch. "They're pretty spectacular," Gibbons says. 603-823-5661; franconianotch.org

Carrizo Plain National Monument, Calif. 

Gibbons says this remote central California region offers one of the best wildflower vistas in the world, potentially covering an area 10 miles wide by nearly 50 miles long. When not in bloom, it's largely barren grassland, he says. But when the flowers begin to emerge in January, the area is transformed. "It's a phenomenal sea of color on a grand scale." 805-475-2131; blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bakersfield/Programs/carrizo.html

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Calif. 

A little bit of rain can transform a desert into a carpet of color, and this park near the Mexico border is one of the best places to experience it. Scant rainfall this year means a more modest display, but there are still species such as desert lavender, brittlebush and desert apricot to be found. In wetter years, the scale is astounding, covering 1,500 square miles. "It's ridiculously huge," Gibbons says. 760-767-4205; parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada 

This vast ecosystem not only features wildflower displays in the mountains, but in grasslands, too. "You've got this great skirt of prairie around it, which is a fabulous flowery area, grazed by elk and deer." One standout: locoweed, a native flower related to the lupine that's poisonous to wildlife but gorgeous to view. Crowds come in mid-June for an annual wildflower festival. 403-859-5133; pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/index.aspx

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C. and Tenn. 

With more than 1,600 flowering species, some have called this Appalachian area Wildflower National Park. From late winter into early spring, you can see ground flowers such as trilliums and orchids. May into July brings flowering bushes: rhododendron, mountain laurel and flame azaleas. "It's a lovely woodland flora," Gibbons says. 865-436-1200; nps.gov/grsm

Mount Ashland, Ore. 

This southern Oregon peak lords over sprawling Klamath-Siskiyou region, home to 3,500 plant species, including lilies and orchids. While you'll find peak blooms from late June through August, something should be blossoming between April and October. "It's a wonderful flowery place," Gibbons says. 541-618-2200; kswild.org

The Burren, County Clare, Ireland 

Gibbons, who lives in England, says he had to include one location closer to home. This rocky region on the middle west coast of Ireland offers an astonishing variety of flowers from mid-May to the end of June. Many can be seen from ancient sheep paths that wind up and down the rolling hills. "It's a spectacular show for a long period," he says. discoverireland.com

Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, Canada 

Orchids are the standout at this park by Lake Huron. "They have 44 species, and they are such lovely plants," Gibbons says. The annual wild-orchid festival in early June gives visitors a chance to find rare blossoms such as calypso. 519-596-2233; pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/on/bruce/index.aspx

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