Every year, between March and mid-May, the California desert explodes in a riot of color as wildflowers bloom and carpet the landscape. It’s a brief moment in time where the Golden State can truly celebrate the coming of summer… and it’s a popular tourist draw, too. While 2018 has been on the dry side, and probably won’t feature a “super-bloom” like in the spring of 2017 (when the flowers could be seen FROM OUTER SPACE), but this still the prime time for wildflower-spotting in California.
If you want to make sure you make the most of your wildflower adventure, give the Wildflower Hotline a call. Every Friday between March and May, the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants releases a new wildflower report. Also keep your eyes peeled on social media for colorful pics of some of these popular destinations for wildflower-spotting in California!
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the second-largest contiguous state park in the country, which means lots of space for flowers to bloom! In the park and nearby town of Borrego Springs, look for blooms on Barrel Cactus, Beavertail Cactus, Cholla, and Prickly Pear. Desert Agave, Chuparosa, Creosote, and Brittlebush are also starting to show their colors. All in all, there are around 200 flowering species of plant that call this park home. For a guaranteed view of the flowery fun, visit the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association garden. If you want to hit the trails, these hikes offer stellar views of wildflowers in their natural habitat: Borrego Palm Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Cactus Loop, and Calcite Mine.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
California is mostly famous for its blooming poppies, and one of the best places to spot them is Carrizo Plain National Monument near San Luis Obispo. It’s also home to owl’s clover and jewelflower. Unfortunately, this year’s drought has hit Carrizo Plain pretty hard, and there won’t be much flowery awesomeness this spring, but the Painted Rock should satisfy your desire to see something brightly colored and totally cool. Inside the horseshoe-shaped sandstone formation hide vibrant petroglyphs from the Chumash, Salinan and Yokuts peoples.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is probably one of the most popular spots for wildflower-spotting in California (besides Anza-Borrego). The corner of the Lancaster Hills is a perfect micro-climate for poppies to thrive. Aim to arrive in the mid-morning; it’s warmed up enough for the poppies to unfurl, and it’s before the wind will have set in. As to which trails to hike for the best views, stop into the visitor center and ask where the poppies are at their prettiest. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll be visiting when the town of Lancaster puts on their annual California Poppy Festival; it’s usually in mid-April.
Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park
Just seven miles to the West of Antelope Valley is the Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, which offers a totally different, but still amazing wildflower viewing experience. The park’s Joshua trees will start to bloom in early spring, just as the beds of wildflowers around them begin to show their colors. Joshua trees bloom with pale white flowers on their branches that grow larger and larger as the early spring weeks go by. As with all flowers, though, the proper conditions are required for blooms to occur.
Pinnacles National Park
April is the prime time for flowers in Pinnacles National Park (a full 80% of the park’s plants are in bloom between March and May), but any visit between January and July will be rewarded with beautiful blossoms. By February, Manzanita, milkmaids, shooting stars, and Indian warriors should be showing their colors. March brings buds from poppies, fiddleneck, peppergrass, filaree, fiesta flower, monkeyflower, and baby blue-eyes (I promise I’m not making the names of these flowers up.) April adds plants like Johnny-jump-ups, virgin’s bower, gilia, suncups, chia, black sage, pitcher sage, larkspur, and bush lupine to the display. The last to come along in May, fading by late June are chamise, buckwheat, clarkias, orchids, penstemons, and roses. As with other parks, pop into the visitor center to get the scoop on where to hike and spot these beauties.
Plumas National Forest
Did someone say ‘wild orchids’? Because if you know when and where to look, you might be rewarded with the chance to see some exceptionally rare flowers in the wild at Plumas National Forest. Cruise the Feather River Scenic Byway (Hwy 70 through the Feather River Canyon) in April and you won’t even have to get out of your car to enjoy the flowers. Keep your eyes peeled for waterfall buttercups, redbud shrub, yellow bush monkeyflower and silver lupine. May and June still provide plenty of wildflower-spotting opportunity in Plumas County as well!
North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
If you’re stopping by North Table Mountain, it’s worth it to put in the extra effort to stop by after a recent rain; not only will that make the flowers more intense, but you’ll get to see the park’s waterfalls at their best as well. Besides the wildflowers and waterfalls, you can check out lava flows, unique wildlife, Vernal pools and more. During the spring months (usually April and May) the California Department of Fish and Game offers ranger-led tours that provide extra insight into the unique features of the park.
Sonoma Valley Regional Park
Even though this part of California was ravaged by the Nuns wildfire, that hasn’t stopped the wildflowers. Sonoma Valley Regional Park is awash in lupine, buttercups, popcorn flower. The underground bulbs of star lilies, purple ground iris, narrow-leafed mule’s ears, Diogenes’ lanterns and Danny’s skullcap kept them safe from the flames, which cleared away the dead grass that can choke blooms. Nearby Shiloh Ranch Regional Park is another park that was affected by wildfires, but is now in bloom.
More natural wonder to enjoy…