Want to see wildflowers? Spot them on these Boise-area hikes in May
By Nicole Blanchard
Idaho Statesman (on-line blog only), April 25, 2019 12:35 AM, Updated April 25, 2019 12:35 AM
Thanks to the abundance of April showers the Treasure Valley has had this spring, you’re likely to find plenty of May flowers on Boise-area hiking trips.
If you’d prefer to scout out blooms under the helpful eye of an experienced botanist, consider tagging along on one of Barbara Ertter’s Treasures of the Boise Front wildflower walks. Ertter, a Boise native, is partnering with the Foothills Learning Center for the second year in a row to lead a series of hikes in the Foothills that focus on diverse and noteworthy displays of wildflowers.
According to Ertter, elevation is key when it comes to finding Idaho flowers in bloom.
“Start low and move higher (as the season progresses),” she said. “By the time you reach the highest elevations, you can start to move low again for fall blooms.”
Here are the best spots for the spring wildflower “wow factor,” according to Ertter and fellow botanist Martha Brabec, who works for Boise Parks and Recreation as a Foothills restoration specialist.
Boise-area wildflower hikes
Military Reserve: Easy-to-recognize arrowleaf balsamroot are already in bloom at the Military Reserve in Boise’s North End. The flowers grow in large bunches of multiple, bright-yellow flowers.
Brabec recommends the Central Ridge trail to see small burnet, while Ridge to Rivers’ spring wildflower suggestions point hikers to Cottonwood Creek Trail, a shady route that follows a small stream.
Polecat Reserve: Ertter led a wildflower walk on the Polecat Loop Trail in mid-April. She said the reserve is one of the more diverse wildflower habitats in the Foothills, featuring species unique to our area, including Idahoa (a small green plant also known as pepperpod) and Aase’s onion, which grows light purple flowers close to the ground.
You also can find a variety of biscuitroots, Brabec said, including the recently discovered species of biscuitroot named for former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus.
Expect to look carefully for wildflowers here. Ertter calls these plants “belly flowers” — ones you have to lay on your belly to see. You’ll find showier flowers elsewhere.
Hillside to Hollow Reserve: Just off of Hill Road, you’ll find even more arrowleaf balsamroot in the spring, plus less-common plants including the purple Aase’s onion and Cusick’s primrose, a deep purple flower with a yellow center.
Ertter recommends hiking the Buena Vista trail, where she held a wildflower walk in early April.
Oregon Trail Reserve: Ertter led a walk to see wildflowers on the Columbia basalt flows on April 22. Expect “beautiful sagebrush” and blue flax.
Watchman Trail: Watchman is a must-see for wildflower lovers. Clusters of arrowleaf balsamroot create a sea of yellow for several miles through the Foothills. One Idaho trail runner told the Statesman “it’s like you’re in ‘The Sound of Music.’ ”
You also can see purple and white lupines here and on nearby 3 Bears and Orchard Gulch trails, according to Brabec.
Lucky Peak: Though Lucky Peak is a gateway to higher elevation (and later-blooming flowers), there are still spring wildflowers popping up.
Ertter will lead a hike on Cobb Trail, accessible from Lucky Peak Trail or West Highland Valley Trail, on April 30. The route will take you into the Foothills outside Southeast Boise, where you’ll find Hood’s phlox, wild violets and yellow and orange scabland fleabane, along with Andrus’ biscuitroot.
The following week, Ertter plans to return to the Lucky Peak area, viewing hare’s-foot milkvetch, bright purple Beckwith’s violet and clusters of small, white Bolander’s yampah in Lydle Gulch.
Corrals Trail: Toward the end of May, accompany Ertter on the Miller Gulch and Corrals trails in the Foothills southeast of Bogus Basin, where you’ll likely find lupines in full bloom. The tall plants feature tapering columns of purple, pink and white.
Ertter tentatively plans to look for the lupines on May 21, but check the Foothills Learning Center’s event page on Facebook closer to the date to confirm and RSVP. All wildflower walk dates are subject to change based on weather and flower displays, Ertter said.
Camas Prairie: Alright, so this one isn’t exactly in the Boise area, but the purple camas lily bloom in late May is a sight to behold. From Boise it’s about 2 hours to drive to the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
Where to find more wildflowers — and ensure they’ll bloom in the future
If you’re not a fan of hiking but still hope to see some flowers, catch the Idaho Native Plant Society’s native wildflower show at the Foothills Learning Center on Sunday, May 12, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free and features a variety of blooms indigenous to Idaho.
You also can plan to see flowers later in the summer at higher elevations in places like McCall, Stanley and Sun Valley. Ertter will continue to lead wildflower walks in the Boise area through June and July, and the Statesman will publish additional articles on wildflower hotspots this summer.
While you’re looking for blooms, be sure not to disturb the plants. Some tourists trampled flowers during California’s recent super bloom but Ertter said it’s simple to be a good steward and still enjoy the flora.
Ertter says the No. 1 rule is not to pick the plants (unless they’re invasive species, such as bachelor’s button). Stay on trails as much as possible, and watch your step if you have to leave the trail at all. Finally, remember that you’re one of hundreds or possibly thousands of people who will view the wildflowers — and the impact of each person really adds up.
“We like to think our individual choices don’t have that much of an impact (on the environment),” Ertter said. “But they do.”