A tour of California's natural floral wonders is inspirational and enjoyable. Hiking or driving, there are magnificent wildflower sights to behold.
California is rich with floral splendor any day of the year, but never more so than
in the spring. From mid-February through May, the mountains, deserts and coastal
plains come alive with color and texture.
California State Parks
Many of California’s state parks offer easy access to acres of blooming wildflowers.
Each park is different and calling ahead to learn what flowers are in bloom and what access
is available can prevent disappointment. Flowers may bloom early or late depending upon
the weather, and parks may fill to capacity during peak seasons. Visiting the California State
Parks website is a quick way to verify the latest information when planning a state park
Some of the most beautiful state park wildflower displays include:
- Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve located near Lancaster in Los Angeles County. Traditionally the greatest poppy blooming period occurs in April. Magnificent carpets of bright poppies stretch as far as the eye can see. Blooms are visible from roads and parking lots, but a hike into the park will bring the poppies up close and personal and offer a glimpse of desert wildlife as well.
- Garrapata State Park in Carmel, Monterey County. This park features meadows, a redwood grove, a riparian zone and a coastal ridge, each with its own inherent and diverse wildflower beauty. While the hike through the meadows may be tame, reaching the ridge is a steep climb and may be an unsuitable challenge for some. Those who do make the trek will be rewarded for their effort, for the variety of wildflowers in this park is vast. Additionally, because of its shoreline, visitors may also get to see harbor seals, sea lions, otters and gray whales.
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park near Garberville in Humboldt County. This third largest California state park encompasses the banks of the Eel River and is home to the largest remaining old growth redwood forest on the planet. Its ecosystem is diverse and completely unique. Springtime offers glorious blooms of orchids and lilies and dogwood as well as other spectacular displays of wildflowers along its Avenue of the Giants.
Mountain and Desert Public Land
Acres of mountain and desert regions in California explode in rainbow colors in
the spring. A tapestry of floral color spreads from southern to northern California in
areas that are easily accessible, and in other areas that require dedicated exploration.
There is something for everyone. As with the state parks, visitations to open areas
can be enhanced by first visiting the Bureau of Land Management of California website
to verify blooming times and access.
Some of the most colorful areas include:
- Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County. Depending
upon rainfall and temperatures, springtime in the central valley can evoke the feeling
of being transported back in time to an era unspoiled by modern development. As
appeared in The Wilderness World of John Muir, the great naturalist,
John Muir, (1838-1914), once wrote of the valley that “the hills were so covered with
flowers that they seemed to be painted”. Even today, the natural wonders that
John Muir brought to the world’s attention a century ago can be visited in this exquisite
and protected area.
- Merced River Canyon in Merced County. With a river-view road accessible by car and an eighteen-mile hiking/bicycling trail, a tour of the Merced River Canyon provides an unparalleled abundance of spring wildflowers. Large swathes of extraordinary wildflowers carpet the land and river’s edge. Unspoiled panoramic views of blooming vistas create a picture perfect landscape that is rare in today’s world.
- Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County. The desert can appear dormant
and colorless to many, but in truth it is teeming with unusual life, and this is never truer than in
the spring. Magnificent blossoms sprout on cactus and trees, around rocks and along paths of
their own. Because rainfall is vital to the burst of color, not every spring will produce a stunning
desert display. But when the rain has cooperated, the desert becomes a natural wonder not to
be missed. Current conditions are routinely updated on the Preserve’s website.
What to Do, Bring and Wear
Besides ensuring that a good camera is at hand, there are policies and recommendations
to consider before embarking on a wildflower viewing adventure. Contacting the California State
Parks Department and the Bureau of Land Management of California is the surest way to learn
important details that include:
- Current blooming conditions
- Vehicle access
- Hiking/Bicycling trails
- Pet policies
- Camping and picnicking information
- Park fees and hours of access
- Guided tours information
- Laws regarding touching or removing wildflowers
Spring is the time of rebirth, and California offers some of the most breathtaking examples of that annual regeneration found anywhere in the world.
The Wilderness World of John Muir, Mariner Books, 2001
By John Muir, author, and Edwin Way Teale, editor
The websites of:
National Park Services
Bureau of Land Management
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Garrapata State Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Merced River Canyon
Mojave National Preserve