The Wildflowers of Shrine Pass
Finding and Shooting the Wildflowers of Shrine Pass
Note: Clicking on any of the pictures in this article will take you to a larger picture and more information about the image.
Shrine Pass, near Vail Pass, is one of the very best wildflower locations in Colorado. Shrine Pass is located between Frisco and Vail off of I-70. To get there turn into the rest area on I-70 just east of Vail Pass. From the rear of the parking lot the Shrine Pass road winds up to the top of the pass which is a good bit higher than Vail Pass. Even though wildflower peak blooms vary from year to year in Colorado, Shrine Pass usually is at its best sometime around mid July. Since 2006 is looking like a pretty hot year with an early spring, the peak might be as soon as the last week of June or the first week of July, but I'm still betting on the second week of July.
As you start up Shine Pass Road, watch for meadows full of wildflowers to the left of the road. When you find a good parking place, stop and hike down into the valley toward the south. If you wander around for thirty minutes of so, you will probaby find some gorgeous patches and hidden glades ofwonderful flowers; there are lots of Showy Daises, Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, Columbine, Tiny Elephant Heads, Alpine Daises and all kinds of stuff that I don't know the name of. A little later in the month Fireweed and Coneflowers become numerous. This is a heavily used area so be careful not to trash the environment. At this time, access off the road may even be closed; if so, you should respect this closure.
When you get tired of this area, go on up the road until you get almost to the top of Shrine Pass. In a large meadow on the left, a prominent road goes south to a group of cabins and the beginning of the Shrine Ridge Trail. I think the Shrine Mountain Inn, a great mountain restaurant which is also located here is still open. You have to park on the left side of the main Shrine Pass Road since the road to the cabins and Inn is closed. You can't miss it; almost any day in July there will be twenty or more cars parked here. I know this sounds like a mob scene but once you get off the road and on the trail, it's all worth it. If you hit this in a wet year, at the right time, the Shrine Ridge Trail can be one of the best wildflower experiences in Colorado.
Anyway, walk down the road to the Inn and the cabins where you will find the Shrine Ridge Trailhead. The trail is short; the best stuff happens in the first couple of miles of so. A good time to go is late afternoon, maybe even after 5 PM. The crowds are gone and the sun is low or even over the horizon which makes for excellent picture viewing light. The picture to the left was taken on the Shrine Pass trail at almost nine pm on a gorgeous Colorado evening. An even better time is dawn; there are no people and the low early morning light through the wildflowers can be spectacular. I've gotten some of my very best wildflower pictures here over the past ten or fifteen years. If you are interested, there are many more Shrine Pass wildflower pictures in my Breckenridge/Vail section. All the pictures on this page were taken on Shrine Pass.
If you followthe Shrine Pass Road past the Shrine Ridge turn off, there is a nice overlook at the end of a short trail aabout a mile down the road. From the overlook you get a good view of the Holy Cross Range off to the west. The main road then continues on to Red Cliff which is on highway 24 between Leadville and Minturn. However, the section of the Shrine Pass Road between I-70 and the top of the pass is by far the best for wildflowers.
The Shine Pass area is a good destination for a weekend trip. Vail and all its attractions are just over the pass to the West and Breckenridge with all kinds of wonderful wildflower trails is a few minutes to the East. A couple of excellent trails with lots of July wildflowers are the Lower and Upper Mohawk Lakes Trails and the McCullough Gulch Trail. To find the Mohawk Lakes Trail drive 2.3 miles south of Breckenridge on state road 9, then turn right onto Spruce Creek Road. The road is easy for the first mile; the second mile to the trailhead is pretty rough and a SUV is recommended. To find the McCullough Gulch Trail, drive 7.5 miles south of Breckenridge on State Road 9 and then turn right onto County Road 850 for one mile. Then go right onto Forest Road 851 for two miles to the end of the road. I'll do a news letter on these trails sometime soon.
There is lots of good camping in the area if this sort of thing interests you. Windy Point Campground is on the Swan Mountain road that goes from Breckenridge to Beaver Creek. In the E loop I like sites 94, 95, 98, 100, 103, and 107. In the D loop I like sites 50, 51, 53. These are fairly roomy sites that are closest to Lake Dillon. From this campground the lake is still a bit of a walk though. The Peak One Campground is between Breckenridge and Frisco on the East side of the road. Here, the best campsites are in C loop which is very close to Lake Dillon. The sites I like here are 35, 38, 40, 45,46,49,51,55,60. You can usually find open campsites on weekdays but for weekends and holidays, it is best toget reservations. You can get reservations online at ReserveAmerica.com. I like Reserve America, I use it a lot and it always works very well for me. If you want a high end RV park, there is also Tiger Run for about $60.00 a night ; call them at 970-453-9690. There is lots of lodging in the area but reservations are essential in July. A good place for breakfast and lunch is the Log Cabin Retaurant at the west end of Main Street in Frisco.
Have fun. If you do the trip I would be interested in any comments you might have. Email me.