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U.S. Forest Service

Rocky Mountain Region Viewing Area


Aspen trees with glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum). Aspen trees with glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum). Photo by David Inouye.

Low larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum). Low larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum). Photo by Mary Ellen Harte.

Lupine (Lupinus sericeus). Lupine (Lupinus sericeus). Photo by Gay Austin.

West Elk Scenic Byway Wildflower Viewing Area

Forest: Gunnison National Forest

District: Gunnison and Paonia Ranger Districts

Description: The West Elk Scenic Byway is located approximately 32 miles northwest of Gunnison. Along the 25 mile long stretch of gravel road starting 1 ½ miles west of Crested Butte there is an incredible display of wildflowers under aspen and in subalpine meadows. The road may be driven with a two-wheel drive car. Elevations range from 7,300 feet to 9,980 feet. In early June, when the road first opens and plant life is freshly green and blooming from under 10 to 15 feet of winter snow, you will see sideslopes of yellow glacier lilies, low purple larkspur, and white candytuft next to the road. As the season extends into summer blue lupine, monkshood, mules ears, and columbine burst into bloom. In early September as the wildflowers fade, the aspen turn brilliant yellows and oranges highlighted against dark green conifer.

Viewing Information: The viewing area extends west of Crested Butted 25 miles along County Road 12 to Watson Flats. The best time to visit this colorful roadside area is from June through the end of September (seasonal closures). The U.S. Forest Service, Gunnison Ranger District office in Gunnison (970-641-0471) can provide information about drives or hikes in and around the area.

Safety First: Watch the weather in September. Be prepared for an early snow storm. The 25-mile stretch of road is gravel so take your time and stay on your side of the road.

Directions: Drive north from Gunnison, Colorado to Crested Butte. Follow the signs to Kebler Pass (County Road 12) on the west side of town.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre & Gunnison National Forests, Gunnison Ranger District (970) 641-0471.

Closest Town: Crested Butte, Colorado (1.5 miles).