The California Super Bloom Wildflower season is fast approaching, and if there is anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that there is no better time than the present to stop and smell the flowers.
In previous years that have received sufficient rainfall, one could stumble upon vast California landscapes painted with giant swaths of orange, purple and yellow wildflowers. Unfortunately, ecologists agree that due to the dry winter we’ve had, super blooms are unlikely to occur throughout California this year. Even if we don’t see as impressive of a wildflower bloom this year, it would be a shame to miss out on the beautiful wildflowers that do grace us with their presence.
I’ve put together a list of areas throughout the golden state where you are most likely to find wildflower hotspots. While you are out searching for wildflowers, be sure to take in the natural beauty that already exists by taking a closer look at trees, shrubs, wildlife and geology of the land.
Depending on which part of the state you’re in, wildflowers will come and go at different parts of the year. In the desert, wildflowers will bloom and die much sooner than in the mountain landscapes, so be sure to plan accordingly. No matter when or how you do it, the most important thing is to simply get out and (responsibly) enjoy nature!
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Wildflower Hunting Tips
- Bring a California Wildflower Field Guide. There are many different versions that can be found online or at a local bookstore. Taking the time to identify and study the natural flora in detail will make your experience that much more memorable.
- Make sure to snap pics. You don’t have to be a professional photographer, but getting that perfect Instagram pic is crucial.
- Get the timing right. Because we are not expected to see a large wildflower bloom this year, catching wildflowers in bloom will be more challenging. The optimal time to catch a glimpse of wildflowers at higher elevations is between mid-July and mid-August.
- Look, but don’t take. You may be tempted to bring back a couple flowers as souvenirs, but if everyone did that there would be nothing left to see! Leave the flowers undisturbed for the bumblebees, butterflies and future sight-seers.
- Below, I’ve listed the peak super bloom season times for past years that have seen more rain. Wildflowers will likely be blooming earlier this year due to the shortage of rainfall, so it’s best to head out earlier rather than later.
- As with any nature outing, be sure to leave no trace!
Northern California Super Blooms
In most of these areas, blooming occurs from late-May to July. Among many others, you may see orange tiger lilies, yellow mule’s ears, golden mustard, scarlet gilia, blue lupine, purple wild iris, and rosy desert peach.
McGee Creek by Crowley Lake
Take the McGee Creek exit off of Highway 395, approximately six miles north of Tom’s Place or eight miles south of the Highway 203 exit. This road is narrow and winding, and will lead you to a parking lot at the end of the road. Among the colorful rocky canyon, you will see sagebrush-bitterbrush scrub, sagebrush scrub, riparian, aspen, and talus.
Little Antelope Valley Pack Station
Take Golden Gate Road to the station. You can find fields blooming with wild mustard, mule ears, lupine and wild iris.
Bridgeport Valley/Bodie Hills
From Highway 395, 7 miles south of Bridgeport, take the Bodie Road (Highway 270) east for 13 miles toward Bodie State Historic Park. There is a multitude of beautiful flora that can be found here, including Townsend daisy and limestone aster. Blooms of white and blue lupine, Anderson’s larkspur, yellow hawksbeard, and Coville’s phlox come later in Bodie Hills.
For more flower hotspots in Bodie Hills, try meandering down Geiger Grade Road, heading north out of Bodie State Historic Park. In Bridgeport Valley, you can discover fields of wild iris and lupine in mid-to late June.
Tioga Pass Road
Just before the entrance to Yosemite National Park, the short Nunatak Nature Trail and Bennettville Trail offers displays of subalpine flowers that have adapted to surviving in the somewhat harsh conditions. Some of these plants include rock cress, whitlow grass, and shieldleaf. Other wildflower species you may see are red and white heather, penstemon, crowded lupine, ground-level carpets of dwarf bilberry, and Labrador tea shrub.
For more wildflower hotspots in this region, check out this free PDF: Wildflower Hot Spots of the Eastern Sierra.
Blooming in the higher altitudes occurs from late-April to July, but in years with little rain, flowers may bloom earlier in the season. In Lake Tahoe, you may find white phlox, Mariposa lily, yellow plantain buttercup, blue lupine, bright-red snow plant, orange paintbrush, and lacy pussypaws.
Big Meadow Trailhead
About 1.5 miles in to the Big Meadow trail, you will find a large meadow that is usually abundant with alpine wildflowers. For a full day hike, continue on the trail to Dardanelles Lake (an 8 mile journey).
As you start your hike to the falls, you should begin to see wildflowers within the first mile. For a longer hike, loop back on the maintenance road (5 miles) or make your way up to the summit of Mount Rose (10 miles).
Winnemucca Lake + Meiss Lake
Winnemucca Lake, near Kirkwood, is a well-known spot for wildflower sight-seeing because of the rich volcanic soil that supports spectacular alpine blooms. It is a moderate 5-mile hike to reach the lake, and you will pass by Frog Lake in the first mile.
Make your way along the Meiss Lake trailhead, located close to the summit of Highway 88 at Carson Pass, and walk about 2 miles to the Meiss family cabin, where you will find a colorful wildflower display.
Lake Forest Beach
Lake Forest Beach on the north shore is one of the best places to snap a photo of Lake Tahoe with fields of buttercups, lupines covering the ground. The shore of this public beach will become blanketed in brilliant purple wildflowers, attracting photographers and wildflower seekers alike.
In years with little rain, the flowers may start blooming earlier in the season (late May or June). To get there, follow N. Lake Boulevard north towards Lake Forest, and turn right on Lake Forest Road. Turn right again onto Bristlecone Street, and parking along the road is free.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Depending on snow-melt and rain levels, wildflowers will tend to bloom from late-May through August throughout Lassen. Early in the blooming season, look for mountain mule’s ear, pussypaws, snow plant, and western wallflower, followed by corn lily and lupine. California corn lily and silverleaf lupine tend to bloom later. The National Park Service has put together a general schedule of when wildflowers bloom in various areas within Lassen.
Mount Diablo State Park
Blooming occurs from early-March to May. Throughout the park, you may see blue skullcap, Fendler’s meadow-rue, sanicula, Johnny-jump-ups, bush lupine, monkey flowers, globe lilies, California poppies, bird’s eyes, and wallflowers. Check out this wildflower identification guide from the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association and this awesome What’s Blooming Now on Mount Diablo spreadsheet, which is updated regularly.
Donner Creek Loop Trail
This beautiful 5-mile loop is the number one pick for viewing wildflowers on AllTrails, and features mountain views and waterfalls galore, especially after a rain. Parking at the trailhead is for residents only, but paid parking is available at the nearby Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center for $6.
Mount Diablo Grand Loop Trail
Mount Diablo Grand Loop Trail is a difficult 6.8 mile loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers and sweeping views of the Bay Area (and beyond on clear days). Hikers have reported wild flowers currently in bloom, so check it out fast!
Secret Valley Loop
Secret Valley Loop trail is a moderate 6-mile loop near Walnut Creek that features beautiful wild flowers and views of Mt. Diablo, the East Bay, and Napa Valley. The flowers are already in bloom, so get out and catch them before they are gone.
For more trails in Mount Diablo State Park that feature wildflower hotspots, check out this list of trails on AllTrails.
The rolling hills throughout Napa county offer ample opportunity to view wildflowers. Renowned for endless fields of yellow mustard, you can drive for miles and miles to view wildflowers among vineyards.
More Creek Trail
This 7.1 mile hike in More Park, St. Helena takes you through a loop into a canyon absolutely rife with wildflowers. You’ll make about five creek crossings to find some unmatched beauty of Napa’s wine region beyond the grape.
North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
This expansive mesa formed by ancient lava flow located near Oroville attracts wildflower enthusiasts during the blooming season, from early-March to mid-May. Among many others, you may see lupine, foothill tritileia, Sierra primroses, blue dicks, purple owl’s clover, and poppies. By early April, bright yellow Douglas’ violets will start to pop up in the grasslands, along with pale yellow daisies, white meadowfoam, and magenta shooting stars and buttercups. Other flower species present in the area include blue dicks, blue-and-white bird’s eye gilia, magenta Kellog’s monkey flower, and purple owl’s clover.
The showy wildflowers are likely to come and go fast this year, so plan a trip soon! You will need to purchase a land pass for the day online before visiting. Official access is through a small parking lot on the west side of Cherokee Road.
North Table Mountain is also renowned for its Phantom Falls hike, which is well worth trekking to view as well.
Pinnacles National Park
About 80 miles south of San Jose, this small but incredibly unique national park features geological wonders and an amazing display of wildflowers.
Depending on rainfall, blooming occurs from March to mid-May. Early-bloomers include milkmaids, shooting stars, and Indian warriors. These are followed by California poppies, bush poppies, fiesta flowers, monkey flowers, baby blue eyes, bush lupine, heat-loving clarkias, orchids, penstemon, and roses. In April, species such as Johnny-jump-ups, virgin’s bower, gilia, suncups, chia, black sage, pitcher sage, larkspur, and bush lupine join the spectacular display of flowers that bloomed in March.
Southern California Super Blooms
Check out the 2021 Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline, which provides an in-depth look at which wildflowers are in bloom in Southern California as of March 19.
Antelope Valley State Park
Located 75 miles north of Los Angeles, this reserve has become famous for its rolling hills of poppies, blanketing the landscape in orange and yellow. Even though a large bloom is not expected to happen this year, keep checking in here to see if it’s worth making the trip.
Blooming occurs between mid-February to mid-May, with the peak bloom occurring from mid-March to mid-April. Poppies are the most predominant flower here, but they are accompanied by desert pincushion, blue dicks, California aster, blue lupin, yellow fiddlenecks, and pink filaree. There are currently sparsely populated blooms, with potential for more with a significant amount of late-season rain.
For an up-to-date flower watch, this Live Poppy Feed shows you what’s currently in bloom.
Anza-Borrego State Park
Located in the Colorado Desert, this large state park comes alive with an amazing display of wildflowers from mid-February to mid-May. The wildflowers you may see include desert marigold, desert lily, sand verbena, desert sunflower, apricot mallow, desert five-spot, Orcutt’s woody aster, and blooming cacti. While you will not see an abundant bloom this year, the park’s canyon trails feature a variety of natural blooms.
On March 3rd this year, it was reported that Hornblade Canyon in Anza Borrego was blooming wonderfully. For more current updates on wildflowers in the park, visit DesertUSA.
Channel Islands National Park
Over 800 plants species begin to bloom on the five Channel Islands from mid-February to mid-May. Due to microclimates and the distance each island is from the shore, each island supports a unique array of flora. The vibrant yellow coreopsis begins blooming on Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel Islands in January and usually lasts through March. San Miguel is also home to lupine and poppies, while Anacapa features red paintbrush and island morning glory. Santa Barbara Island blossoms with lavender chicory and pale-yellow cream cups, and the elusive is only found on Santa Rosa Island.
For current wildflower updates and information, visit the Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline
Death Valley National Park
A super bloom in the dessert can be a sight to behold, but this year we are most likely in for a sparse wildflower display. Because of the dry conditions this year, your safest bet when searching for wildflowers will be in the higher elevations. Blooming occurs between mid-February to mid-July throughout Death Valley, with lower elevations blooming first (if at all), followed by higher elevation flora later.
Mid-Feb to Mid-April: In the foothills and at lower elevations you may see desert Gold, Phacelia species, Golden Evening Primrose, Gravel Ghost, Bigelow Monkeyflower, and Desert Five-spot.
Early April to Early May: At mid-level elevations (3000 to 5000 ft.) and in canyons, you may find Desert Dandelion, Brittlebush, Desert Paintbrush, Fremont Phacelia, Mojave Aster, Bigelow’s Coreopsis, Indigo Bush, and Desert Globemallow.
Early May to Mid-July: At high elevations (5000 to 11,000 ft.) and on mountain slopes you may find Desert Mariposa, Purple Sage, Rose Sage, Panamint, Magnificent Lupine, and Inyo Lupine.
Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area
Located in the Los Padres National Forest, and 30 minutes north of Los Olivos, the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area often puts on a fantastic display of wildflowers. In addition to being able to see the colorful array of flowers, you will be able to see panoramic views of the San Rafael Wilderness and the Santa Ynez Valley.
Blooming occurs on the mountain between mid-February and mid-May. In March, you may see purple shooting stars, followed by chocolate lilies, and scarlet Indian paintbrush. In the grassland areas, you can find goldfields, sky lupine, and California poppy. Other wildflowers present include pitcher sage, blue dicks, wild hyacinth, shooting stars, buttercups, milkmaids, Johnny-jump-ups, purple fiesta flowers, and popcorn flowers.
Shell Creek Road Meadows
Shell Creek Road becomes an important destination for wildflower enthusiasts and photographers alike. There is a stunning mix of goldfields, coastal tidy tip, baby blue eyes, and California poppies that create a beautiful blanket of blooms in a super bloom year. But even in drier years, a trip to the the meadow is well worth your time.
The Shell Creek Road Meadows is located in San Luis Obispo County, 130 km north-west of Santa Barbara.
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