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Wildflower Trails: New Book Guides Hikers On Where, When To Find State’s Wildflowers

Book Lists Wildflower-Peppered Trails In All 72 Wisconsin Counties

compass plant
Compass plants are starting to bloom in Wisconsin. Dan Mullen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Unlike Wisconsin’s fall leaves that can only be glimpsed for six to eight weeks each year, there’s always a wildflower growing in at least three out of the four seasons.

But that doesn’t mean going on a hunt for wildflowers is as simple as picking a random trail, said Rob Bignell, an author whose recent book captures some of the best spots in Wisconsin to find wildflowers.

“Based on the environment that they’re growing in the ecosystem, there may be no wildflowers out there, or if there are, maybe there’s only one or two,” he said.

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For example, looking for wildflowers in July in a maple tree forest probably won’t be very exciting. The tree canopies snuff out their growth.

But oak savannas and prairies? That’s the ticket as summer marches forward.

In his book, “Wisconsin’s Best Wildflower Hikes,” Bignell talks through the right seasons and places to find some of the state’s more than 500 wildflower species, and includes options for all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

“I always think it’s a good idea to look and figure out, are there any wildflowers that are growing in the area that I want to hike at right now at this time of the year?” he said.

Bignell has a few recommendations for places to try this summer:

Field of wood violets
Field of wood violets. Maia C (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Logan Creek State Natural Area

While there are lots of great places to find wildflowers in Door County, Bignell said one of the best is Logan Creek State Natural Area.

This site is well-known for showcasing Wisconsin’s state flower, the wood violet. The wood violet typically blooms in mid-to-late May, but Bignell said there are other violets in the area that bloom a bit later.

While you’re in Door County, you might consider stopping by Peninsula State Park, which has an array of wildflowers including trillium.

“If you love trillium, that’s a great park to go to,” Bignell said.

Ridges Sanctuary, also in Door County, is perhaps one of the top spots to see different types of wildflowers, including the dwarf lake iris.

“(They) are very rare in Wisconsin,” Bignell said. “The dwarf lake iris … usually only grows along Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, in that area.”

prairie smoke
Prairie smoke. Craig Hemsath (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Scuppernong Prairie State Natural Area

For those looking to visit southeastern Wisconsin, and specifically the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Bignell recommends a walk through the Scuppernong Prairie State Natural Area.

“Down there through the rest of the summer you’re going to find all kinds of flowers that are blossoming,” he said.

One of these is prairie smoke, a flower with mauve-colored petals and pink threads that blow in the wind.

“It looks like smoke sort of off in the distance, and when you get a whole group of them in a field, it’s an impressive sight,” he said.

Some of the plants that are just starting to bloom are the bright yellow compass plants and the white-flowered mountain mint, which he said have a “wonderful aroma.”

red columbine
Red columbine. Laurel F (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eagle Peak Trail

The Eagle Peak Trail at Interstate State Park in western Wisconsin is a great place to see red columbine.

A long-stemmed, red-petaled flower with a yellow center, Bignell said this one is very common along the trail, especially in May and June.

The Eagle Point Trail is often climbed because of its boasting high point by hikers hoping to catch a view of the St. Croix River. But hikers generally find their view obscured by trees.

If you’re looking for a view, Bignell said a better option is to take the Summit Rock Trail, which also will give you an opportunity to glimpse the prickly pear cactus.

“It’s one of the few spots in Wisconsin where the prickly pear cactus grows,” he said. “When you see it blossom, it’s a gorgeous sight indeed.”

Prickly pear cactus
Prickly pear cactus. brewbooks (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tips For Finding Wildflowers

  • Location matters and so do the seasons. July is not a great time to find wildflowers in the woods, though you might find them growing along the edges of a trail or the woods. So stick to the prairies and oak savannas.
  • Look for wildflowers a day or two after rainfall. That’s when they tend to bloom.
  • Plan to hike with the right tools. This might include a magnifying glass or a camera that allows you to zoom in and get a closer look at the flowers. A field guide with information on Wisconsin wildflowers is another helpful thing to pack.

Taking Better Wildflower Photos

  • If you’re trying to capture photos of the wildflowers you see on your hike, first make sure the sun is to your back. Otherwise, the glare may dull the wildflower’s colors in the photo.
  • Take photos on cloudy days to minimize the impact of the sun’s glare.
  • Stabilize your camera with a tripod to reduce the chance for a photo turning out blurry. To that end, don’t shoot on windy days, when wildflowers will be swaying in the wind and can also cause blurriness. You can try to combat that by adjusting for a faster shutter speed on your camera.
  • Get up close and personal to the flower. That way, when you look at the picture on a screen, there won’t be as much filler space and the image won’t look grainy if you try to zoom in.
  • Focus your lens on a single plane of a petal of the flower and point the camera, so it’s directly facing the flower instead of at an angle.