Two hikers exploring fields of alpine flowers..
Alpine Flowers, Alberta
As the snowy landscape gives way to lush green meadows, fields of alpine flowers sprout up almost non-stop in Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park. Committed wildflower followers can sprout in three different alpine zones, at different times of the year. For peak blooms, visit from mid-July through August.
The area starting at the north end of Parker Ridge—near the boundary with Jasper—is the high alpine zone. From mid- July to mid-August, wild rose, Indian paintbrush and other cheery flowers proliferate. These short perennials have created all sorts of strategies to survive the harsh conditions, long winters and short growing season. They huddle close together, creating beautiful mats of flowers. While it’s always important to stay on marked trails for the protection of wildflowers, it’s also for your own safety here: The soil is shallow and erosion can quickly shift the ground, creating walking hazards.
In the wetter sub-alpine zone, coniferous forest floors breed carpets of knee-high purple daisies, paintbrush, flowering bushes and bouquets of other mountain flowers. The third zone, montane, runs along along the shores of Johnson Lake and the Bow Valley Parkway, which connects Banff to Lake Louise. This zone boasts the longest wildflower growing season. Among deciduous trees and wetlands, prairie crocus is the first to bloom, followed by orchids, brown-eyed Susans, early blue violets, fireweed and a variety of lilies.
It’s common to become an obsessed “flower child” after going on an alpine wildflower safari. “There are many ways for us to understand what’s what: clubs, social media groups and apps,” explains Heather Dempsey, a longtime guide at Banff National Park and member of the Bow Valley Naturalists. The group conducts citizen science projects to help foster wildflower preservation. “Groups and clubs like ours teach people about preservation, while also providing tips to grow wildflowers at home.”