When the peak season hits in late summer, Mount Rainier becomes one of the most spectacular wildflower displays in the world. Easy hikes can introduce you to a riot of growth, with explosions of color waiting around every corner and spreading across every meadow.
The flowers bloom at different times each year, but the most incredible display tends to happen from mid-July to late August. But as soon as the snow starts melting, the flowers start blooming!
If you want to see the wildflowers at their best, contact the park directly to see when peak season is hitting this year. Want to know what you can expect from a hike at Mount Rainier? Discover 15 of the best wildflowers with this guide.
1. Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum)
Wild Ginger enjoys moist conditions best, which is why you might spot it in the shaded forest areas surrounding Mount Rainier.
You need to take a closer look at the ground to see Wild Ginger — the flowers are often hidden behind the kidney-shaped leaves that dominate the plant. Wild Ginger has a cup-shaped flower, brown-red in color and covered in fine hairs.
If you want to spot Wild Ginger on a hike, keep an eye out for the distinctive curved leaves. When you see a flower, give it a sniff. Wild Ginger takes its name from the citrus/ginger scent it emits.
2. Alpine Aster (Aster alpigenus)
The pretty Alpine Aster is a charming flower that you can often spot growing in clumps on rocky slopes. It’s distinguished by a single flower head per stem. This flourishing head is the crowning glory of the Alpine Aster.
A busy ring of blue-purple petals circles a yellow disc, for a cheery flower on the alpine-like trails. The Alpine Aster is common in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier. Look out for large groups of it growing in the drier sections.
3. Avalanche Lily (Erythronium montanum)
As the weather starts to warm up in late spring, you might be confused by the light sprinkling of snow that seems to have returned to Mount Rainier. This is the arrival of the Avalanche Lily, which starts to bloom after snowmelt.
Avalanche Lily is often found in damp subalpine woodlands and alpine meadows, sometimes in quite large clusters (giving that snowy appearance).
White sepals swoop backward from a yellow center, rising from unmottled leaves. Look for Avalanche Lily in patches with Queens Cup and White Trillium.
4. Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)
The vivid yellow of the Glacier Lily is the first thing distinguishing this wildflower from its Avalanche Lily cousin, and one of the defining features of this cheerful plant. The tepals are long and thin, curving backward on a drooping head.
It can grow up to 12 inches tall, with long white stamens, a white style, and a white-to-red anther. Glacier Lilies start to appear as the snow melts. Look for them in the subalpine mountain meadow regions, where they often bloom alongside the Avalanche Lily.
5. Sitka Valerian (Valeriana sitchensis)
Sometimes growing up to 1 meter tall, you can spot the Sitka Valerian as it towers over the lower flowering plants.
Although it typically grows closer to 70 centimeters, this is still an imposing plant, even if the small white flowers that bloom at the head are delicate, rather than powerful.
Sitka Valerian can be common in the high elevation meadows and subalpine regions, so look out for sprays of white dancing above the growth. The best time for Sitka Valerian is mid to late summer.
6. Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa)
Spreading Phlox can make itself at home in many habitats, including on high-elevation slopes and along rocky pathways.
A small perennial, the Spreading Phlox can often be found in tightly-knit groups, forming a mat of blue-purple flowers across the floor and along the slopes.
Spreading Phlox pops up in Mount Rainier in the peak season, with large swathes of the star-like flowers appearing in the meadows at the height of summer. They aren’t as showy as some wildflowers, but they have a lot of charming characteristics.
7. Common Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)
The Indian Paintbrush is an impressive wildflower, growing up to 80 centimeters tall and flowering in a bright red-orange. From orange-tipped bracts the red tubular flowers emerge, creating a dramatic scene among the subalpine regions.
Indian Paintbrush takes its name from the “dipped paintbrush” effect when it blooms. While the base of the petals and bracts are green, the tips are bursting with color.
Just like a paintbrush poised for painting! Appearing in peak season, the petals look particularly spectacular in the sunlight.
8. Magenta Paintbrush (Castilleja parviflora)
Magenta Paintbrush, sometimes known as Mountain Paintbrush, is a species of Indian Paintbrush that often flowers in the high mountains, and even the alpine regions.
In Mount Rainier, keep an eye out for Magenta Paintbrush during July and August in the high-elevation regions. Magenta Paintbrush grows to around 40 centimeters tall, with layers of bracts and tubular flowers emerging at the head.
These flowers can be yellow, but a red-pink tint is also common and can be quite distinctive even in a busy meadow.
9. Broadleaf Lupine (Lupinus latifolius)
In the open areas and meadows that can be found throughout the lower elevations of the park, Broadleaf Lupine is abundant. Typically growing from 12 to 24 inches, although some can get a lot larger. This pretty plant is decorated with blue-purple flowers.
There are several types of Lupine in Mount Rainier park. The Broadleaf Lupine can be found at lower elevations, but as you move higher, it’s replaced by the smaller Subalpine Lupine (Lupinus articus). Above this, you might find the Dwarf Lupine (Lupinus lepidus).
10. Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
The drooping flower of the Crimson Columbine is often found growing along the banks of streams and skirting the corners of meadows in the Mount Rainier forest areas. The flower nods downwards, with five petals typically splayed open in a star-like shape.
As you might expect, the Crimson Columbine is a startling red-orange color, with a distinctive yellow center. Crimson Columbine blooms in peak season, with the strong coloring resembling mini bursts of sunshine.
11. Fan Leaf Cinquefoil (Potentilla flabellifolia)
Fan Leaf Cinquefoil is common in the Sunrise areas of Mount Rainier, growing when the snow starts to melt. They look very similar to Buttercups, with a bright yellow coloring and slightly cupped leaves.
Appearing at the start of the flowering season, watch out for Fan Leaf Cinquefoil to alert you to the upcoming peak season. Fan Leaf Cinquefoil grows low to the ground in clusters. Look out for the yellow flowers when the snow starts to melt.
12. Jeffrey’s Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi)
A member of the primrose family, Jeffrey’s Shooting Stars have purple petals that are folded back over a nodding head, giving that distinctive “shooting star” appearance. They can grow in clumps and clusters, with the largest examples rising to roughly 20 inches.
As Jeffrey’s Shooting Star grows, it gradually becomes more upright. The majority of the petal is a pink-purple, but it fades to white at the head of the flower.
Look for Jeffrey’s Shooting Stars in wet meadow areas at high elevation during the peak season. This flower was once seen as a sign of good luck, so it’s definitely worth a look!
13. Mountain Monkeyflower (Mimulus tilingii)
Mountain Monkeyflower spreads along wet grounds, using rootstocks and runners to form a mat of planting.
The flowers of the Mountain Monkeyflower are a startling yellow, and each flower can measure more than 2 inches. There are several species of Monkeyflower in Mount Rainier park.
You’ll have to look closely to distinguish the Mountain Monkeyflower from the Common Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), but the red spot of the Chickweed Monkeyflower (Mimulus alsinoides) helps it stand out.
14. Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa)
While the highlight of the flowering season in Mt Rainier comes later in summer, the Calypso Orchid brings a touch of delight to May. It’s easy to overlook this mini bloom, as it can be masked by a proliferation of skunk cabbage.
Check the shade for a chance to spot this shy flower! Sometimes known as Lady’s Slipper or Fairy Slipper, the Calypso Orchid has a delicate purple bloom.
Among the heavier growth of the forest floor, the Calypso Orchid can be tough to spot. If you do see one, be very careful — they damage easily.
15. Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
As the rest of the flowering season winds down, the Pearly Everlasting stands firm. This flower can sometimes keep on blooming into November, making it a rare winter wildflower highlight.
Although it likes warm climates best, it can handle even very cold temperatures well. Pearly Everlasting can grow over one meter tall, with narrow leaves and a dry stem. The most distinctive part of the plant is the white bracts that surround the actual flowers.
We hope this guide has helped you discover some of the most amazing wildflowers you can find at Mount Rainier. In summer, this is widely regarded as one of the greatest wildflower destinations, so as you can imagine, this is only a fraction of what you can discover!