California Wildflowers – When and Where to Find Them

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California Wildflowers – When and Where to Find Them

Wildflower seekers are in luck in California, even if it’s not a superbloom spring. Even if the rainfall hasn’t elicited this famous flower power, you can still see beautiful blooms throughout the state. Here’s where and when to find California wildflowers. (Remember, stay on established trails, never pick wildflowers and do not step on fragile plant life.)

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What Is a Super Bloom and Will There Be One This Year?

A very specific set of conditions must occur for a super bloom. A significant rainfall takes place usually in September or October, rinsing a bloom-inhibiting chemical from the seeds. For the flowers to take hold and bloom, several successive rains must fall, about one a month, hopefully more. Back in 2017 and 2019, the state of California received significant rain during this time, resulting in amazing super blooms.

 

However, recent drought has created abnormally dry conditions, preventing super blooms from occurring. While this may be what happens again in 2021 and 22, that doesn’t prevent you from seeing the wildflowers that gave the state its nickname (Golden State, as much for the proliferation of the California poppy as for the Gold Rush era).

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

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Death Valley National Park

 

Peak Season: February-July

You’ll have quite a span of time during which to be wowed by wildflowers in what may seem like the most unlikely of places: Death Valley. Believe it or not, the Mojave Desert super bloom occurs here every 10 to 15 years, so while you certainly shouldn’t count on it, keep in mind that the last one was in 2016.

 

From mid-February to mid-April, look for desert wildflowers at the lower elevations of the park, including the valley floor. These are typically the most impressive, with desert gold, the fragile white “gravel ghost” and purple phacelia. From June to July, look in the higher-elevation areas, above 5,000 feet.

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Anza-Borrego State Park

 

Peak Season: Mid-February-Mid-May

California’s largest state park – Anza-Borrego – comes to colorful life with desert marigold, desert lily, sand verbena, desert sunflower, apricot mallow, desert five-spot, blooming cacti and Orcutt’s woody aster. It’s an easy drive, 85 miles northeast of San Diego, to this 600,000-acre reserve in the Colorado Desert. Hike along the canyon trails to find the best views.

 

 

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

 

Peak Season: Mid-March-Late April/May

The name says it all at Antelope Valley. This nearly 1,800-acre reserve is 75 miles north of LA and looks like something out of a storybook when it’s awash in poppy blooms. While you may not get the “Miracle March” that follows a super bloom, you’ll likely see poppies, desert pincushion, blue dicks, California aster and blue lupine.

 

 

Channel Islands National Park

 

Peak Season: Mid-February-Mid-May

Take a day trip to the Channel Islands, 25 miles off the Santa Barbara coastline. On Anacapa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel islands, you’ll find yellow coreopsis from January through March, Indian Paintbrush (Santa Rosa Island), lupine and poppies (San Miguel) and red paintbrush and island morning glory (Anacapa). Lavender chicory and pale-yellow cream cups light up the hillsides on Santa Barbara Island, as well.

 

 

 

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area

 

Peak Season: Mid-February-Mid-May

The summit of Figuero Mountain, and nearby Grass Mountain, 50 miles northwest of Santa Barbara near Los Olivos are typically blanketed with wild hyacinth, shooting stars, buttercups, milkmaids, Johnny-jump-ups, chocolate lilies, scarlet Indian paintbrush, goldfields, purple fiesta flowers, popcorn flowers and, of course, poppies.

 

 

 

Pinnacles National Park

 

Peak Season: Mid-March-Late April/May

Head to this small national park south of San Jose for milkmaids, shooting stars, Indian warriors, poppies, bush poppies, fiesta flowers, monkey flowers, baby blue eyes and bush lupine. This far south, you’ll also see the clarkias, orchids, penstemon and roses that love the heat.

 

 

 

More Southern California Wildflower Hot Spots

 

Palm Springs: Check out the cactus in Indian Canyons – these cacti love a dry year and will show off with a crown of yellow flowers. The beavertail cactus offer up bright magenta flowers that are just beautiful. Or, hike the North Lykken Trail in downtown Palm Springs to see barrel cacti in bloom.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

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Mount Diablo State Park

 

Peak Season: Mid-March-Late April/May
Head east of San Francisco about 40 miles to this state park encircling 3,849-foot Mount Diablo. As you hike, starting as early as March, you’ll likely see blue skullcap, Fendler’s meadow-rue, sanicula, poppies, Johnny-jump-ups, bush lupine, monkey flowers, globe lilies, bird’s eyes and wallflowers.

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

 

Peak Season: Mid-March-Late April/May

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This wide-open reserve makes for a nice stopover and a place to stretch your legs. Take a walk and snap photos of poppies, lupine, foothill triteleia, Sierra primroses, blue dicks and purple owl’s clover.

 

 

Lake Tahoe

 

Peak Season: Late April-June/July

As if there’s not enough to draw visitors to the sapphire waters of Lake Tahoe, the land surrounding this mesmerizing body of water comes to life each spring with white phlox, Mariposa lily, yellow plantain buttercup, blue lupine, red snow plant, orange paintbrush and lacy pussypaws.

 

 

Eastern Sierra

 

Peak Season: Late May-June/July

Take a drive through Tioga Pass in Yosemit National Park, as well as Bridgeport Valley, McGee Creek or Parker Bench, and you’ll witness a kaleidoscope of colors in orange tiger lilies, yellow mule’s ears, golden mustard, scarlet gilia, blue lupine, purple wild iris and rosy desert peach.

 

 

Lassen Volcanic National Park

 

Peak Season: Late May-June/July

Depending on the snowmelt each year, the lower elevations of Mount Lassen typically see wildflower blooms in late May to early July, and in the higher elevations, August and September. Look for mountain mule’s ear, pussypaw, snow plant, western wallflower, corn lily and lupine.

 

More Northern California Wildflower Hot Spots

South Yuba River State Park, Penn Valley: Walk the 2.4-mile Buttermilk Bend Trail along the South Yuba River and read the interpretive flower identification placards. Look for fairy lanterns, live forever, redbud and Dutchman’s pipe.

Colfax Area” Hike the 4.5-mile one-way Steven Trail to the banks of the North Fork of the American River. Look for harlequin lupine, bush poppy, Chinese house, bush monkeyblower and tufted poppy.

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