ROGERS PASS — When you spot eight different wildflowers before the first turn in the trail, you know all those April and May showers paid off.
From the waist-high beargrass to the douglasia mats no taller than a bumblebee’s knee, the Rocky Mountain flower show has hit full bloom. Rogers Pass, just 90 minutes east of Missoula but worlds away botanically, makes a remarkable field trip for flower lovers and those they wish to convert.
“I was up there this weekend and it was packed,” Lincoln Ranger District natural resource specialist Josh Lattin said Monday. “It should be good for maybe a week or so. They’re usually done pretty quick, but if we keep getting these cells of moisture they may last a little longer.”
The 30-minute walk from the high point on Montana Highway 200 to the ridgeline transforms from thick forest colored by red Indian paintbrush, yellow glacier lilies and lavender lupine stalks. Beargrass blooms the size of softballs jostled between tree trunks.
Within 10 minutes, the trail breaks into an open, rocky meadow littered with yellow blanketflowers with their red centers, pale pink prairie smoke and cushion Townsend daisys with their purple petals and yellow centers. Ten minutes more, and all vegetation drops below shoelace level. At the rocky ridgeline, tiny blue forget-me-nots and Yellowstone graba cushioned the ground while occasional monster pale evening primrose defied the wind with flowers big as silver dollars.
“There are lots of wide-open meadows all along the Continental Divide," Lattin said. “At Granite Butte off the Marsh Creek Road, there’s a unique ribbon forest. The snow melts 15 feet into the woods, and it holds water so well, you get a high-elevation riparian area. There are 4-foot, 5-foot, 20-foot drifts that slowly melt out and you see flowers that you typically see along a creek.”
That meadow lies at the end of the Marsh Creek Road near Stemple Pass, south of Lincoln. The U.S. Forest Service considers it a Resource Natural Area for its unusual characteristics.
Visitors may not pick wildflowers on Forest Service land, but they can certainly enjoy them. The only challenge is not stepping on the thousands of blooms now appearing.