Showy perennial with an unbranching stem arising from basal leaves, with a single, sunflower-like flower head. Disk flowers with spiny bracts; ray flowers rose-colored and somewhat drooping, 1½–3½ inches long. Pollen yellow. Blooms May–July. Basal leaves in a clump, strap-shaped, up to 12 inches long including the long stalks; stem leaves shorter and lacking stalks. Stems and leaves with stiff, spreading hairs. Fruits in a burrlike, dome-shaped head that blackens upon drying.
Similar species: Pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) has white, not yellow pollen, and has a more western range.