Let me take you along on one of my favorite summertime trail runs through the Payette National Forest. It’s early morning, nice and cool, the sun just rising above peaks and ridges to the east, filtering through the tree tops. With Conall leading the way, we’ll start at 5,900 feet, climbing upward for some four miles through sections of tall pine, fir and aspen trees interspersed with open meadows full of wildflowers, then climb across a scree field of granite boulders to the summit at 7,600 feet before winding our way back down along a more gentle single-track trail to the start. Our pace for these nine miles? Easy and slow, allowing time to stop frequently, taking in the stunning beauty all around, the peaceful quiet, the deep blue sky and clear air, the smell of wild roses and spicy phlox alongside the trail, and the visual delight of an amazing variety of wildflowers in the meadows.
Right away we’re treated to an abundance of purple and blue – asters (daisy family) and Payette penstemon.
Nearby and a bit higher in elevation, lupine are just blooming.
Asters and lupine take over the center of an old, abandoned logging road through a forested section of the route.
Early morning sun breaking through the trees highlights yellow owl’s claws mixed with purple-blue penstemon.
Between climbs, we enter a level section of single track through dense trees where Conall finds a trickle of fresh water burbling up from an underground spring right beside the trail.
As Conall’s drinking I look around and am delighted by the size of this tree just off the trail, a majestic matriarch shading much younger relatives.
The tree is so tall I can’t capture all of it in a photo.
Just past the level stretch of trail we enter open meadows dotted with boulders and trees, lush with emerging wildflowers and grasses, the sun rising above the eastern ridge of a big, open bowl.
Payette penstemon on an open slope with lupine and yellow cinquefoil, backed by a grove of aspen.
Payette penstemon – so blue! – with yellow cinquefoil.
Climbing through the boulder-strewn meadow, Conall shows the way as we’re about to enter another large meadow. Our route will soon have us traversing the front of that rock-strewn slope in the distance.
Open grassy meadow that will soon be full of lupine and other wildflowers as well. We’re at roughly 7,000 feet in elevation now. We’ll pass through some trees on our way to that distant slope.
Shooting stars – one of the prettiest of the early wildflowers – growing beside a stream under the trees.
Single-track trail emerging from the trees after crossing the stream.
Unsure what these low-growing, shade-loving white flowers are, but they remind me of baby’s breath.
Now we climb up and across the scree slope just as the sun begins to find it. The lower section is lined by mountain bluebells, elusive yellow Columbine, and mountain lilac shrubs (I think). And mosquitoes! So thick here, thankfully not bad everywhere else.
Columbine and penstemon among the boulders.
Conall amuses himself with boulder hopping in the scree field. Note the half moon in the sky above him.
Just past the scree field, still climbing looking up toward the top of the ridge and the true summit, the trees and wildflowers find purchase among the boulders. We’re at roughly 7,400 feet now.
At the base of a rock face well shaded from the sun, Conall finds the last remaining bit of winter’s snow and enjoys a few bites.
Something I only see growing here in this shady cliff base are these magenta-colored Indian paintbrush. Usually the paintbrush are orange. Mixed with the magenta paintbrush are a few yellow heartleaf arnica and baby-blue Jacob’s ladder.
We’ve reached the “false” summit at 7,600 feet (the trail doesn’t visit the true summit at 7,800 feet), where the views open up for miles in all directions. This old log cabin with rusty metal roof adds character to the northwest view.
Conall tries stalking the pika atop the rocks on the small hill to his left, but the pika wisely dives underneath them. Looking south, there’s still some snow on distant mountains, and the weather’s changing, clouds holding some much-needed rain coming in from the southeast.
The view of forests, lakes, valleys, mountains and interesting cloud formations to the south, from a shoulder just below the summit.
Working our way back down the mountain now, along a single track trail, wild roses and fuzzy bistort flowers frame the view to the southwest.
This section provides gentle downhill single-track trail through open meadows fragrant with wild roses and phlox and expansive views westward.
The delicate white flowers of low-growing phlox give off a spicy scent. Not sure what the taller green-leafed plant is, but the morning sun nicely highlights its fuzziness.
Along the way, some of the more typical orange-colored Indian paintbrush.
Nearly back to our starting point, a small creek provides water for this showy display of wild roses.
Conall jumps back up onto the trail after getting a drink in the small creek running under the foot bridge.
Roses, bistort and bluebells thriving alongside the creek.
Just above the parking lot, some mountain hollyhock almost as tall as me.
Parting shot: a bee collecting dog rose pollen.
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I delight in exploring the national forest near my Idaho home on foot, whether trail running, hiking, or xc skiing, with my two dogs by my side, taking photos of nature and wildlife. An author and freelance writer, I love observing and writing about the natural world, and dogs, and am a long-time contributing editor at Bark magazine. I used to practice law for a living. I much prefer the writing life.
View all posts by Rebecca Wallick
1 thought on “Nature’s Therapy: Wildflowers”
OK that was a beautiful hike I just took with you. Love the photos. I’m so impressed you knew the names of 99% of the wildflowers.
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