Springtime can be missed in a blink; however, those with open eyes won’t miss the orchestra of colors that carpet California hillsides, meadows and landscapes with wildflowers.  With thousands of varieties and numerous habitats, climates and terrain, the blooms are as varied and unique as California itself.

With most of the state experiencing an unusually wet winter, these “uncultivated  flowering plants” should be bountiful in coming months. Early spring (February–April) is the opportune time to view desert blooms. Red Rock Canyon State Park is a juxtaposition of rock formations with vivid blossoms amidst beaver tail cactus and white blooming Joshua trees and yuccas. Early spring trekkers will be treated  to desert candles, lilies and asters, wooly sunflowers and Indian paintbrush. The Coachella Valley Nature Preserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Death Valley National Park also showcase their share of seasonal color and are already flourishing.

To be immersed in true California color, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster in Los Angeles County consists of 7 miles of trails through 1,745 acres of golden petals.

Wildflowers generally peak March through early June; however, an abundant snow pack will extend the Sierra Nevada wildflower season into the summer months. For late spring through summer viewing, head to higher elevations. Fish Slough and Lake Sabrina in Bishop are popular viewing areas in the Eastern Sierra.

When you think of wildflower viewing, do you ever imagine lying on your belly to see those colorful blooms? At Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve adjacent to Big Bear Lake come prepared to get horizontal. Often called belly plants, these unique wildflowers are so small you may need to put your nose to the ground to see them.

San Mateo’s Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve in the San Francisco Bay Area flourishes with blue larkspurs and lupines, pink shooting stars, white fairy lanterns and red paintbrush. Marin’s Chimney Rock at Point Reyes National Seashore showcases yellow goldfields, blue irises, poppies and Point Reyes chocolate lilies. Other popular locations in the Bay Area include the Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve near Novato and Napa’s Missimer Snell Valley Wildflower Preserve, where onlookers can appreciate the vibrant hues from the road.

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Butte County transforms into an endless sea of color and is one of the region’s premier viewing areas. The paths that lead you there (Highway 70, Cherokee Road), are equally spectacular. Many are convinced that the biggest wildflower show in Butte County is found north of Table Mountain at Chico’s Bidwell Park. 

Also in Butte County, Oroville’s North Thermalito Forebay is easily reached. The paved path wrapping around Rattlesnake Hill is also wheelchair accessible allowing visitors to enjoy spring wildflowers with ease. This 1.2-mile loop may be short but it includes one of the most photogenic spots in Butte County — the Sutter Buttes rising behind the North Forebay’s footbridge. What do you do when it starts to heat up in the Sacramento Valley but you still want more wildflowers? Head to the foothill region. Paradise Lake keeps the bloom going into May and June with forest favorites like lupine, bleeding heart and flowering dogwood trees. Pack a picnic and bring chairs to enjoy a respite at lake’s edge.

Discover greater wildflower adventures at California State Parks and Jepson Prairie Preserve in Solano County.

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Barbara Steinberg

Barbara Steinberg is a freelance travel writer and omni-local. Recognized as a California travel authority, she’s been exploring and writing about the Golden State for more than 30 years. She is everywhere you want to be in California – off road and on, urban and rural, 5-star resorts and hidden hot springs, gourmet or dive, but never happier than when she's exploring back roads. Barbara has been a member of California Watchable Wildlife for more than 25 years and serves as their Outreach Coordinator representing the organization at wildlife and nature festivals throughout the state. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Sacramento with a BA in Communications Studies. She is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California and California Roundtable on Recreation Parks & Tourism and Subaru Ambassador.


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