Ah, spring. While we love all four seasons in Western Montana, wildflower season is extra special. Glacier Country in full bloom is quite a sight. These miniature miracles of Mother Nature brave cold nights and dramatic spring weather to sprout their way up into Montana’s landscape in a striking display. Mountains, meadows and hillsides speckled with color make for spectacular hiking, biking and road-tripping, attracting wildflower aficionados, visitors and locals alike.
A Montana wildflower treasure, beargrass grows impressively high at 5 to 8 feet. Beargrass can be found throughout Western Montana, but it’s especially prolific in Glacier National Park. These dense, white clusters blanket the subalpine landscapes of the park and draw visitors hoping for a glimpse. You’ll find beargrass blooms in late May in the lower country and into August in the high country. Though beargrass is a perennial, mass blooms occur every five to 10 years, when the climate is just right.
Indian Paintbrush, or prairie fire, has a vibrant paintbrush-like appearance and rich scarlet hues that pop against the landscape. Glacier National Park boasts three red and four yellow species of paintbrush, which grow between 4 and 16 inches high. You’ll find them in July and August in Montana’s alpine and subalpine meadows and mountain slopes, but they begin to bloom in April in lower elevations like the banks of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.
These famous yellow flowers transform Western Montana’s hillsides come May. Arrowleaf balsamroot are part of the sunflower family and grow in clumps 2 to 3-feet tall. Tribal Nations once relied on these plants for food and medicinal purposes, but today they’re mostly eaten by wildlife. You’ll see them in low-elevation grasslands, on open slopes and ridges, and in open ponderosa pine woodlands. If you’re at the National Bison Range in May you can’t miss the overlapping hillsides awash in these delightful yellow clusters.
When you spot a yellowbell, you know spring is on its way. In fact, they can often be found peeking out of light snow. These are one of the season’s first blooms. Don’t miss the distinct reddish-purple ring around the base of the yellow flower. These bashful bells keep their heads down in grasslands and dry sagebrush prairies as well as ponderosa pine forests, blooming through early May.
A favorite among bees and delicious in jam and tea, fireweed is a striking pinkish-purple 4 to 9-foot cone-like shoot against the stunning Montana backdrop. They flourish in avalanche sites and burn areas, where they’re usually the first plant to emerge after a wildland fire—hence the name. From June through September, you’ll find fireweed in open meadows, along stream banks and in open forested areas.
Last but not least, Montana’s state flower! The bitterroot is a lovely, low-growing pink bloom you’ll find in the foothills—like Missoula’s South Hills—during the spring and summer months. The roots were used by American Indians and considered a vital part of their diets. Lewis and Clark were so smitten by this flower they wrote about it in their journals. The Bitterroot Mountains, valley and river are all named for these little stemless, leafless, sometimes elusive gems.
Please note: Social distancing is required to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, we’ve got plenty of space for social distancing activities and recreation in Western Montana. It’s vital, however, to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, even outdoors. Please be mindful of our communities and small businesses, which have had to adapt to the change and may face limitations this year—always call ahead. We’re all in this together. Take the Tourism Pledge to travel responsibly in Glacier Country.
March 29, 2021