Charlie Russell Nature Photography

Blue Canyon Wildflowers

Blue Canyon is an interesting trail in the Sierras, close to Sonora Pass. This is a vigorous hike, particularly if you aren’t acclimated to the altitude.

It can be difficult to find the trailhead, as there are no signs or markers.

There is a great variety of native wildflowers here, and it is worth the long drive to see so many wildflowers late in the summer.



Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium ssp. circumvagum

The Flowers

Here’s a sample of a few of my favorites from this hike (click on the image to see a larger view).

Narrow tube ipomopsis is the paler cousin to scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) which I see more often in the Sierras. There was more of this than I’ve ever come across before, in several spots part part way up the mountain. 

Narrow tube ipomopsis, Ipomopsis tenuituba
Narrow tube ipomopsis

There was a nice patch of Western polemonium (aka Western sky pilot) along the stream that you cross near the beginning of the hike. 

Western polemonium (aka Western sky pilot), Polemonium occidentale
Western polemonium

I’m always happy to find western columbine on a hike, but it was surprising to see this so late in the year!

Western columbine, Aquilegia formosa
Western columbine

We didn’t find too many Leichtlin’s mariposa lilies this time, but they do stand out on the exposed rocky hillsides.

Leichtlin's mariposa lily, Calochortus leichtlinii
Leichtlin's mariposa lily

If you click on the lightbox image below you will see larger versions of the photos, and you can scroll through through a selection of the plants (and other things) that we found on this hike. All photos are available for purchase in a variety of formats.


The Hike

The full trail is a 3.2 mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 1200′, starting at 8800′ elevation. That is a very vigorous hike! There is an interesting lake at the top of the hike.

For this visit, we only did a 1.5 mile hike. We weren’t acclimated to the altitude, and by the time we got part way up the clouds were rolling in, with thunder not too far off. We were smart enough to turn around, and just after we reached our car there was a huge cloudburst that drenched everything. You don’t want to hike in the Sierras when summer lightning storms arrive!

Here’s a view of  the trailhead on Highway 108, from a hillside higher up the trail.

Blue Canyon trailhead
Blue Canyon trailhead

The trailhead is hard to find. There is just a spot along the road that has a wider than usual shoulder. The trail starts steeply down the hill to Deadman Creek, and then straight up the opposite hill (from where this photo was taken). From the road, it is difficult to see the trail unless you are standing right at the spot.

Because this is a remote and hard to find trail, it isn’t very busy. There was a great variety of wildflowers just in that first mile or so. If you make it up to the lake, you’ll find many other species beyond what I list below. 

This time of year there isn’t a lot of water in Deadman Creek, so it was easy to cross. We found quite a few wildflowers blooming along here.

Deadman Creek

Looking south up the slope you’ll see the trail (faintly) heading up the hill on the opposite side of the creek. 

As you go up the slope there are several spots that are very lush, with a great variety of wildflowers.

The one hiker we met when he was coming down said that this was “the best hike EVER!”

The trail wanders up the hill, sometimes coming close to the stream.

We did have one additional stream crossing  further up the hill, but water levels were low enough to not be a problem. This stream will take you to Blue Canyon Lake, if you can make it that far.

Other times the trail wanders away from the stream, across dry and rocky slopes. 

You will find a different collection of wildflowers out here.

One of the great aspects of this hike is that there are VERY few non-native plants in this area!

Here’s the track that we followed:


Click following button or element on the map to see information about it.
Lf Hiker | E.Pointal contributor

Blue Canyon   


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Move your mouse along the elevation graph to show the location on the map. The Refresh icon will re-center the map. The Expand icon will expand to full screen.


The trailhead is on Highway 108, roughly 60 miles east of Sonora, just short of Sonora Pass. It is hard to spot! There is just a wider than usual shoulder with a few trees, about 6.4 miles east of the turnoff for Kennedy Meadows Road. My recommendation is that you use an app like Google Maps and set the target location to the GPS coordinates of 38.318919, -119.663789. Keep in mind that you might not have cell phone coverage here, so it helps to download the map for the area before you head off from home.

When you  get out of your car and look down the slope towards the creek you should be able to see the start of the trail.

Timing is Everything

We visited here in late July 2022. The stream crossings were not a problem, althought there were some slick spots. You do have to watch the weather, as you are somewhat exposed on this hike and lightning/rain can build up quickly in mid to late summer.

Temperatures started in the upper 70’s when we arrived (after lunch, we got a late start), but quickly dropped down to the low 60’s as the clouds came in.

At this altitude this isn’t a springtime hike. Late June might work, July should be great. On this visit it looked like we were hitting the end of the flower season at the lower end of the trail. Other people who hiked this trail about the same time said that things were fresher up by the lake.

Blue Canyon Wildflowers

Here’s a listing of the native plants that we found on this visit. “nif” means “not in flower”. In most cases the scientific name will be a link to a reference source such as Calflora.


We also found the following:

  • Lady beetle larva, Family Coccinellidae (Lady Beetles), Subfamily Scymninae. Mealy Bug destroyer?
  • Bee Fly, Bombyliidae family
You can view all of my observations from this hike in iNaturalist.
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