Native Orchids of Yellowstone National Park 


When and where to find and photograph them             Photos and text by Colleen F. Moore  


There are reported to be 15 species of orchids native to Yellowstone National Park. I have found at least 10 of them. I hope this website helps you learn to appreciate wild orchids in their native habitats. Never try to transplant a native orchid. Many species require certain soil characteristics, so you'll probably just destroy the plant you are trying to love. Some are take nutrients from certain fungi and bacteria in the soil, and this makes it virtually impossible to grow them at home.

Link to orchids organized by:    Species      Locations and Habitats in Yellowstone    

  Approximate Blooming Dates    Links to more info  

Location List with maps and GPS coordinates:  

These are the locations where I have personally found these orchids. These orchids undoubtedly grow in other areas of the park with suitable habitat. The list below included locations mainly close to roads or popular trails and boardwalks near developed areas of Yellowstone. The detailed species pages above describe the habitats a little more. I am listing the GPS locations (in UTM coordinates) because many are available in the Herbarium websites listed here. Perhaps more publicity of the locations will yield better orchid conservation.     

Don't pick or dig!  It is illegal to remove plants or artifacts from Yellowstone. There is a double curse on those who steal orchids -- the orchids are lost from the wild and they die after you transplant them because your soil won't have the right fungi and nutrients. 

Mammoth   Find Corallorhiza striata (striped coral root) and Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid). A source in the 1890s called the Alaska orchid "rare", and found them in Mammoth. There is a nice colony of Alaska orchid between the markers on the map. Hike the Narrow Gauge Trail that starts between the Liberty Cap and the old building south of the restrooms. This is also the start of the Beaver Ponds trail, but to go left onto the Narrow Gauge Trail just before the second footbridge over Clematis Creek. After climbing a bit you come to an area of Douglas Fir trees, and the orchids are there. This is also a great trail to the upper hot spring terrace.  

Lake / Fishing Bridge area  Find Calypso bulbosa (fairy slipper), Corallorhiza mertensiana (western coral root), Corallorhiza maculata (spotted coral root), and Platanthera dilatata (white bog orchid). This is a great area for orchids. The Calypso orchids are very close to the Elephantback trail before you really start to climb uphill.  I found more to the left of the trail, but they did exist on both sides. The white bog orchids are along the stream between the Elephantback parking pullout and where the trail starts into the woods. Coral roots are on the Storm Point Trail, which starts east of Fishing Bridge. Also hike the Storm Point loop: after you you reach the point you will cross some dunes, and then the trail enters the woods to the north. The coral roots are to the sides of the trail here, starting at about the same time ballhead waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum) is blooming. There are also western coral root orchids in the woods at a pull out just east of Indian Pond. 
        Bridge Bay. Just a couple of miles south of Fishing Bridge, there are white bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata) along the Natural Bridge trail, as well in some of the culverts in the meadows below the Bridge Bay campground. Explore especially the culverts at the Grand Loop road below Loop G of the campground. Natural Bridge trail is an old road converted to a trail. It is an easy walk from the campground or from a small pullout on the west side of Grand Loop road just south of the bridge over Bridge Bay. Look for bog orchids in the ditch on the north side of the road as well as around the small stream and meadow near the natural bridge.
Nez Perce Ford and LeHardy Rapids
      A few miles north of Fishing Bridge, LeHardy Rapids is the geological outlet of Lake Yellowstone. The rapids once had large runs of native cutthroat trout on their way to Lake Yellowstone. Sadly, the visitor is now unlikely to see fish jumping. But you will probably see an osprey or eagle overhead, and maybe a white pelican on a rock, indicators that there are still fish.
     The Park Service has been re-vegetating trampled areas. There are now bog orchids in the wet areas, growing near monk's hood (Aconitum columbianum) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Also look for Ladies tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) in the grass along the shore downstream between late July and September (I haven't found the Ladies Tresses here yet).
     Nez Perce Ford, just south of the Mud Volcano area, is a historical Native American crossing point on the Yellowstone River. It is now a picnic area. The shoreline has a large colony of Ladies Tresses orchids (Spiranthes romanzoffiana). Follow the informal pathways from the large parking area down toward the Yellowstone River, and look in the grass. These orchids are about the same height as the grass they grow in. Take a whiff -- their aroma is great.

Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot)    
    Corallorhiza striata (Striped coralroot)      
    Corallorhiza trifida (Early coralroot or Pale coralroot)

Goodyera oblongifolia ("Rattlesnake plantain orchid")

   Goodyera oblongifolia (Rattlesnake plantain orchid)

   Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid, or Alaska orchid, also ) 

Platanthera (Bog orchids)    

  Platanthera dilatata (Tall white bog orchid, White rein orchid)  
  Platanthera aquilonis (Green bog orchid, see Platanthera page for comments on Platanthera aquilonis)  


  Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses)

Location list:

Apollinaris Spring: Platanthera dilatata. (White bog orchids). Large colony here in this historically interesting area that was once a main source of fresh water for visitors coming from the North Entrance. Look in the wet area above and to the left of the rock wall where the spring seeps out. UTM 12 T 521088 4965518.

Artist's paintpots: Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid). Look near the boardwalks in the shade on slopes not real close to the thermals.

Biscuit basin / Mystic Falls trail: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis (bog orchids). Near the falls and along the sides of the trail at almost every wet seep. Also coral root (Corallorhiza sp.) orchids. UTM: Platanthera dilatata 12T 0510615 4925726, Platanthera huronensis  12T 0510844 4925767, Corallorhiza sp. (unidentified buds) 12T 0510811 4925747.

Bridge Bay / Natural Bridge trail: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis (white and green bog orchids). Look in the ditch on the uphill side of the trail. Also, near the culverts at the Grand Loop road below the campground Loops G and H.

Canyon:  Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot). Beside the trail from P-loop cabins to Grandview, near north rim parking lot. Also, on the trail along the rim from Artist's Point. Goodyera oblongifolia (rattlesnake plantain): Large colony not far from Artist's point on trail along the south rim.

Gibbon River: Platanthera sp. (bog orchids), Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses). Use any fishing pullout between Gibbon Falls and Madison Junction, look near the shore in the sun for Spiranthes, and look in the shade for Platanthera species.

Ice Lake trail: Bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata, and Platanthera aquilonis), both white and green bog orchids, in the wet areas between the trail and the lake.

Lamar River: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis (Bog orchids). Along Warm Creek near the picnic area, follow trails toward creek, orchids are slightly back from shore in 'weedy' areas (yes, I mean non-native weeds).

LeHardy Rapids: Platanthera dilatata (Bog orchids). Look on the uphill side of boardwalk near a seep.

Mammoth area: Corallorhiza striata (Striped coral root), Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid). In the woods on Beaver Ponds trail along Clematis Creek, and in the woods along Narrow Gauge trail before you reach the thermals. 

Midway geyser basin / Fairy falls trail: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis (Bog orchids). Look around the seeps and small stream crossings between the Old Freight Road and Fairy Falls.

Nez Perce Ford Picnic Area: Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses), large colony by Yellowstone River in grass between picnic parking lot and river. This colony extends in both directions.

Nez Perce Creek and Fountain Flat: Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses) by the creek, either on the east side of Grand Loop road near a small pullout, or near the picnic area on the west side of the Grand Loop road.

Norris: Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses). I found at least two blossoms near the boardwalk past Steamboat geyser (in the Back basin). Corallorhiza (coralroot orchids) on the trail from the campground to the geyser basin, and in the Norris picnic area.

Old Faithful area: This is a rewarding area for orchids. Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot), Platanthera dilatata (Bog orchid), Platanthera huronensis (Bog orchid), Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses). From the footbridge over the Firehole River closest to the Old Faithful Lodge, look down into the grasses near the shore to see the bog orchids and the ladies tresses. The western coralroots are in a large colony between the cabins and the Firehole River (follow the old sewer line from the cabins into the employee cabin area, then look in the woods near a large boulder). There are also large numbers of western coralroots in the picnic area at the back of the Old Faithful parking area.

Lone Star Geyser Trail: Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot), Platanthera dilatata (white bog orchid), Platanthera huronensis (green bog orchid), and Goodyera oblongifolia. This is an easy trail with little elevation change to the geyser. Look under lodgepole pine near the start of the trail for western coralroots, look in the wet areas for bog orchids, and look for Goodyera oblongifolia under fir trees and near pipsissewa.

Roosevelt Lodge /Lost Lake and Lost Falls trails:  Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper), Corallorhiza trifida (Early pale coralroot). Look for the Calypso bulbosa (fairy slippers) are in really huge colonies along the Lost Lake trail as it switchbacks up from Roosevelt. Pay attention to whether they have a mostly white lip or mostly pink lip -- these are two separate varieties. Look for the early coralroot under other vegetation on the Lost Creek Falls trail as well as near the fairy slippers on the Lost Lake trail in deep moss. There are also some scattered Calypso bulbosa on the Lost Creek Falls trail. 

Trout Lake trail (Lamar Valley between Pebble Creek Campground and Soda Butte): Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper). On the uphill side of the trail around the lake, in a very shady spot.

Virginia Cascades drive: Corallorhiza mertensiana (western coral root) very close to the parking area of the first pullout. Bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata, and Platanthera huronensis), both white and green, on the opposite side upstream from the falls.

West Thumb: Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchids) in a small colony to the left of the Overlook trail before it crosses the road.

Approximate Blooming Dates: Blooming date depends on spring melt timing, altitude, and location, but here are some guidelines. Look at the dates on my photos also.

by species:
Calypso Bulbosa (Fairy slipper): mid-May to mid-June. Can find wilted specimens later.

Corallorhiza trifida (Early pale coralroot): mid-May to mid-June
Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot): early June to early July.
Corallorhiza maculata (Spotted coralroot): mid-June to mid-July
Corallorhiza striata (Striped coralroot): mid-May to mid-June
Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid): mid-June to mid-July.
Platanthera dilatata (White bog orchid): mid-June to late July
Platanthera huronensis (Green bog orchid): mid-June to late July
Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses): mid-July to early September
Goodyera oblongifolia (rattlesnake plantain orchid): mid-July to early September

by date:
Mid-May to mid-June:
Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper),
Corallorhiza trifida (Early pale coralroot), Corallorhiza striata (Striped coralroot)
mid-June to July: Platanthera dilatata (White bog orchid), Platanthera huronensis (Green bog orchid), Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot), Corallorhiza maculata (Spotted coralroot)
August to September: seedpods of all earlier orchids, Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses), Goodyera oblongifolia

Links to other good info on Rocky Mountain and western U.S. orchids: 

1. Montana field guide:

2. Yellowstone's photo archive (no location information, no blooming times):

3. Washington flora checklist:  This is an excellent resource.

4. Rocky Mountain herbarium (at University of Wyoming): Search for orchid family, then zoom in on the Yellowstone part of the map.

5. Pacific Northwest Consortium of Herbaria (includes Montana State University):

Notes: 15 species of orchids are reported by Shaw & Shaw in "Plants of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks", 2008. 

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Native Orchids of Yellowstone by Colleen F Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.