10 Places to See Wildflowers in the West

With the arrival of spring, the extreme weather that has plagued the West all winter takes on a silvery, or truly colorful, tinge: the promise of weeks and months of wildflowers, particularly in southern and central California and Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

“We expect good to above-average wildflower blooms,” said Jorge Moreno, an information officer for California State Parks. Conditions in the east are similarly favorable, according to Arizona State Parks and Trails communications chief Michelle Thompson.

Winter’s rainfall has prompted rumors of a “super bloom” this spring, similar to the wildflower rampage that blanketed the California and Arizona deserts during the winter and spring of 2019.

There’s just one problem with that: “There’s no universally accepted definition of a super bloom by the scientific community,” said Ana Beatriz Cholo, a spokeswoman for the Pacific West region of the national park system, adding that some definitions focus solely on the desert blooms , while others simply point to an above-average abundance of spring blooms. “But most people will agree that a super bloom involves an unusually large and colorful display of wildflowers resulting from significant and well-timed rainfall.”

Bottom line: 2023 is shaping up to be a stellar spring for wildflowers. Some spots will reach super-bloom levels, although they probably won’t be as widespread as they were in 2019.

Prepare for crowded conditions at some wildflower destinations, and be sure to follow trail-blazing principles—stay on designated trails and roads, pack away all trash, and don’t trample or pick flowers in your quest perfect photo. Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California is currently closed to visitors after being damaged as a key destination during the 2019 super bloom.

Check out the Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline for bloom updates in Southern and Central California, and both California and Arizona provide updated wildflower reports for their state parks. For all destinations, visit the park websites when planning your visit for more floral updates, safety tips, and more.

Here are 10 bloom lover destinations in California and Arizona, roughly listed from north to south in each state.

What: Carrizo Plain National Monument, a stretch of grassland in central central California just over an hour from San Luis Obispo, promises to be an especially impressive year for wildflowers, with hillside daisies, bright blue eyes and phacelia blooming already and yet to come more will come .

If: While blooms are already plentiful, park officials expect the flowers to peak in the coming weeks and continue throughout the month, weather permitting. Visit the park’s website and social networks media for updates on flowers and the condition of roads, some of which have been rendered impassable by recent storms.

What: An hour and a half north of Los Angeles, the grasslands of the Mojave Desert come alive with golden-orange California poppies, fields of filaree and gold.

If: The poppies are blooming and more are expected in the coming weeks; Expect blooms in the reserve from early to mid-May. You can check the current inflorescence via the park’s live poppy cam and drive carefully on Lancaster Road; Expect infrequent driving and random stops for photos, according to the park’s website.

What: A destination for largely untouched wilderness, this stunning chain of islands off the coast of Oxnard and Ventura is accessible via a 1- to 4-hour ferry ride by park service provider or private watercraft. Look for lupins, fields of gold, blue tails, and giant coreopsis.

If: The timing of flowering varies across the five islands as each has a unique environment. Santa Barbara Island expects blooms from mid-April to early May, while San Miguel Island should bloom in early May. Visit specific island websites for more information.

What: The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, nestled on the California coast north of Malibu and easily accessible from Los Angeles, expects a super bloom of sorts with a wide variety of flowers including white popcorn flowers, cream chaparral yucca flowers, Purple Lupins and more.

If: Blossoms, including poppies, sunflowers and mariposa lilies, are already springing up amid mountains lush and green from the extensive rains. Expect flowers to peak this month and into May, with some higher elevation areas blooming into the summer months. Check the park’s What’s Blooming newsletter for the latest information.

What: Tucked in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains east of Los Angeles and about an hour’s drive away, Chino Hills State Park is a much-photographed destination for hills lush with orange California poppies, black mustard, school bells, Canterbury bells, and Arroyo lupine .

If: The park is in full bloom. Expect flowers by early to mid-May. Visit the park website for floral news and park updates; Recent storms have resulted in extensive closures of hiking trails.

What: San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first set foot on the West Coast of the United States (the first European to do so), is also a true floral destination. Perched at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, visitors to the park can look out for bush sunflowers, Indian paintbrush, sea dahlias and more.

If: The bloom is nearing its peak. Familiarize yourself with the park’s plant guide or download a special app. Passionate wildflower lovers can become park volunteers and help preserve and propagate native plants (email to learn more).

What: California’s largest state park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located two hours east of San Diego, is a popular destination for wildflower viewing. The desert climate allows for some of California’s earlier blooms, including desert primroses, desert sunflowers, and flowering cacti.

If: Due to the size of the park, different sections receive different amounts of rainfall. Parts of the park are already in bloom and you can expect to find bouquets of flowers in spring and early summer. Visit the park’s website for wildflower updates and photos.

What: Forty miles east of Phoenix, at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is named after a legendary, vanished gold mine and is home to a variety of beautiful desert flowers, including chuparosa, lupins, fiddlenecks and Patagonia lilies.

If: The park started blooming in mid-March. Visit the park’s Facebook page for weekly updates.

What: About 75 miles south of Phoenix and 40 miles north of Tucson, Picacho Peak State Park boasted a true super bloom in March, with blankets of yellow poppies and purple lupins cascading down the mountain.

If: While the super bloom is over and the poppies are wilting, visitors can still find plenty of flowers in the coming weeks.

What: Just outside of Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park is a year-round destination for cacti and desert plants that are particularly stunning in bloom.

If: Cold weather has delayed the flowers a bit in this park, but serious blooms are now in store. Visit the park’s Facebook page for the latest information.


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