11 Accessible Places to See Native Blooms
The high alpine meadows at Mount Rainier and Mount Baker are the pinnacle of the Northwest’s world-class wildflowers. An impressive supporting cast of blossoms spread from coastal Washington to North Idaho, with lowland to mid-elevation blooms in early spring to mid-summer and flowers at higher elevations from early summer to early fall.
Much of this botanical bounty can be visited on accessible trails suitable for wheelchairs, walkers and baby strollers, many paved with gentle grades, seating to stop and smell the flowers, and often access to restrooms, drinking water and ample parking.
The best time to see wildflowers depends on the winter’s snowpack and spring weather, so check online trail reports and park websites and make sure to confirm the availability of amenities before you go.
Because of COVID-19, please adhere to recommended health precautions and check the availability of amenities before you go.
Tubbs Hill/McEuen Park
Starting in early spring with profusions of bright yellow sagebrush buttercup, the lakeside Tubbs Hill Natural Area in Coeur d’Alene boasts various spring flowers through June including yellow fritillaries that look like nodding daffodils, purple grass widows, and tall and showy yellow glacier lilies. Varieties of flowering shrubs bloom later in the year. A paved and fully accessible trail at McEuen Park follows the base of Tubbs Hill, where some of the flowers can be viewed.
One of the Columbia River Gorge’s best wildflower spots has bountiful blooms from early to late spring following native plant restoration efforts by the U.S. Forest Service. More than 90 varieties of wildflowers grow along Washington’s paved Catherine Creek Interpretive Trail, which is steep in sections but provides interpretive signs and viewpoint benches. A few miles away, the Balfour-Klickitat day-use area is a detour with an old homestead, the Klickitat River and flowers including purple grass widows and sunny yellow arrowleaf balsamroot.
Near Olympia, Mima’s Puget prairie grasslands and its strange landforms that reach 6–8 feet in height offer history and mystery. Spring wildflowers blanket the mounds of the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve in late April and May, attracting a fluttering array of butterflies that stay through the summer. It’s a good place to spot spikes of purple-flowering camas, the bulb that was cultivated and harvested by Coast Salish and used by other native peoples of the region. The preserve’s interpretive trail system includes a paved, ADA accessible half-mile loop and two longer gravel paths to the north and south of the paved loop. (Be aware that noise from a nearby shooting range bothers some visitors.)
The snow melts a little later on Mount Baker, but when it does, “it’s wildflower heaven with dramatic scenery,” says Anna Roth, hiking content manager at the Washington Trails Association. Hike Picture Lake’s pavement and boardwalk trail or the steeper Fire and Ice Trail (also paved), and keep watch for flowering heather and the purples, reds and yellows of penstemons, lupine, paintbrush and fleabane.
At Artist Point, views of snowy peaks are nearly outmatched by the sight of a shimmering carpet of colorful wildflowers. While driving the Mount Baker Scenic Byway (Washington State Route 542), stop at the Glacier Public Service Center or Heather Meadows Visitor Center for guidance and accessible restrooms, but remember to check before you go to make sure the road is open and amenities are available.
With grassy coastal bluffs speckled with nodding chocolate lilies, camas and paintbrush, and views of the San Juan Islands and Olympic Mountains, this lowland Western Washington park in
Anacortes is popular in springtime. Trail accessibility is minimal, but the paved, 2.2-mile loop road that winds through the park is closed to vehicles until 10 a.m. each day, providing access to early birds (although some steeper sections can be challenging for non-motorized-wheelchair users without assistance).
Wildflowers — and butterflies that visit them — abound at the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge in Spokane County from April through June. Arrowleaf balsamroot, camas, and the chocolate-red clusters of fernleaf lomatium are a few Turnbull wildflowers that peak in mid-May in this diverse Channeled Scablands, wetland and pine forest landscape southwest of Spokane. Drive or stroll the 5.5-mile auto route, walk the paved portion of the Pine Lake Loop Trail, or check with the refuge office for more suggestions.
Mount St. Helens
The wildflowers on Mount St. Helens are slowly reclaiming the gray soil that was scorched by the volcanic eruption in 1980. Flowers begin to bloom from mid-June to early August. The Johnston Ridge Observatory in the volcano’s blast zone is an accessible spot for learning about the natural and cultural history of the mountain.
On the half-mile Eruption Trail (paved with some steep sections) are many of the wildflowers you’ll see cloaking other Cascade mountains, from the red paintbrush to purple lupines. The flowers are more sparse, but impressive against the dark rock left by the blast. The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center near Castle Rock can provide advice and resources for further exploring the area.
Wildflower meadows don’t get much showier than peak season at Mount Rainier in July and August, where the trickle of melting snow keeps flowers proliferating. This park maintains a wildflower status web page; visit to learn when and where to try for blankets of nodding white avalanche lilies or bunches of purple and yellow Cascade asters.
Starting at Paradise, you’ll likely spot the flowers before you leave the parking lot. The lower meadows are accessible via a paved ramp leading from the main trailhead at the upper parking lot toward Myrtle Falls on the Skyline Trail (suitable for wheelchairs with help and strollers). The Paradise Inn offers ADA-accessible accommodations (check online for a post-pandemic reopening date). Other Mount Rainier options include the paved Nisqually Vista Trail for families that don’t mind carrying a stroller up a set of stairs and Sunrise — on the east side of the mountain, it’s the highest point in the park accessible by vehicle — where visitors come early to see the sun hit Mount Rainier.
The views at Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge are spectacular right from the parking lot and the wheelchair-accessible Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. The Big Meadow Trail and Cirque Rim Trail are two short, paved paths from the visitor center with wildflowers, mountain views, blacktail deer and other wildlife. About 2 miles past the visitor center, the Hurricane Hill Trail unfurls new flowers — from bright yellow woolly sunflowers to delicate rosy pussytoes — by the day as the snow recedes in summer.
Flowers peak in July and August. “It is like being in a different painting every week during the season,” says Syren Nagakyrie, founder of the Forks-based organization Disabled Hikers. This trail is paved and benches are provided, but steep sections closer to the top can limit accessibility. In May, before the ridge is blooming, lowland plants on the nearly half-mile Living Forest Trail (compacted gravel, wheelchair accessible with assistance) at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles produce delicate flowers such as the ephemeral trillium, dainty pink foamflower, fairybells, fringecup and bleeding heart.
Gold Creek Pond
For a short and ADA-accessible wildflower hike close to Seattle, it’s hard to beat this spot east of Snoqualmie Pass, where a mile-long pavement and boardwalk loop trail circles a sparkling blue pond. Paintbrush, pearly everlasting, fireweed and other wildflowers gather at the shoreline. The flowers peak in July and August. Be warned that this spot can get busy on summer weekends.
Another way to find camas and more than 50 other native plant species is to walk the grounds around University of Washington’s renovated Burke Museum to see the newly installed Douglas fir ecosystem and camas prairie. Camas blooms in early-mid May, lupines in June and sunny yellow gumweed all summer long.
–Written by Maria Dolan
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey. It was updated in January 2022.