Spring Wildflower Hikes near Los Angeles: Don't Miss this Season's Bloom!
Spring is the time for enjoying wildflowers! The quantity of blooms in Los Angeles always depends on our always-unpredictable rainy season—the wetter the winter the more likely we'll get a stunning superbloom. However, our hills are carpeted with flowers in March and April, even in a dry year. There are several locations known for gorgeous annual displays of spring wildflowers (not to mention the famous fields of Carlsbad, which promise to be spectacular year after year), and areas recovering from fires can surprise us by bouncing back beautifully. Large displays typically last two to six weeks, so you need to make plans quickly when word comes of a good one.
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Since large-scale wildflower displays typically occur in the high desert, be sure to take sunscreen, hats, water, snacks, good walking or hiking shoes, and of course a camera for your trip. Spring weather in the high desert is not necessarily hot; it can also be comfortably cool and very breezy. If you are looking for cactus blooms or a weekend away, look into current flower displays at Death Valley, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Irvine Ranch, or Joshua Tree National Park— more than a day trip for most of the LA area but well known for their blooms.
Of course, you are likely to see some wildflowers on any of your favorite hikes from spring through summer, so even if you miss the year's largest displays, don't let that stop you. And finally—please tread lightly, don't pick the flowers, and leave plenty for the next visitors to enjoy!
What's Blooming This Minute: Wildflower Updates
What's blooming can change pretty fast. You can get updates on bloom status every Friday from the Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline from March through May. There is also the Desert Wildflower Report site, which has daily updates. These hotlines maintain general information on what is blooming and where. When interested in a particular location, a direct call is best.
Our state flower in all its glory at the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve. Photo by Mommy Poppins
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Have you seen photos of fields covered in orange poppy blooms? Antelope Valley is where many of those photos are actually taken. It's no surprise that the California Poppy is the most widespread wildflower here, turning the landscape into a field of orange in good years, but other flowers are also present. The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center is open during wildflower season (usually about March 1 through Mother's Day). Eight miles of unpaved trails and one paved section are available for strolling. The preserve is located 15 miles west of Lancaster; parking costs $10 (they only take cards or exact cash), or you can park outside the preserve and walk along the road. The sides of the road approaching the preserve are covered in poppies as well during the season—but please don't step on the flowers!
A look at the live camera on the fields is a great way to gauge the bloom before heading out. Don't let a barren landscape get you down—all it takes is one good rain for the poppies to start popping up...
And don't forget about the Annual California Poppy Festival, which moved to its new home at the AV Fair & Events Center and runs for three full days in April.
The Gorman area's wildflower displays are the closest option for much of greater Los Angeles. Hungry Valley SVRA is open for self-guided tours of the prime viewing areas; both road and hiking options are available. Access to the park is $5. Wildflowers on Gorman Hill (the large hill you see from I-5) are best viewed from Gorman Post Road, immediately north of the freeway at the Gorman exit. Gorman Post Road offers no hiking access, and there is no fee here.
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Poppies and other wildflowers bloom everywhere, even in a dry season. Photo by Mommy Poppins
Located 18 miles east of Lancaster, near the town of Lake Los Angeles, Saddleback Butte has a campground, picnic area, vault toilets, and several miles of hiking trails. A good year brings out fields of sweet-smelling yellow coreopsis, tidy tips, fiddleneck, and desert dandelions among the Joshua trees and creosote bush. Saddleback Butte's wildflower season generally ranges from late February through May.
A 1-mile easy unpaved trail from the picnic area to Little Butte goes through fields of flowers. Older kids can handle the hike to the peak—there are different flowers at that elevation, but no large displays among the rocks. A short paved nature trail leaves from the picnic area but does not make it into the wildflower areas. Check the park's Facebook page for wildflower updates before you go.
After a rainstorm, a typically dry and dusty hike becomes green and carpeted with flowers overnight. Photo by Mommy Poppins
This day-use state park 10 miles northwest of Corona offers Angelenos a variety of landscapes without driving too far from home. The park has a great Discovery Center, and spring usually brings a colorful variety of plants and flowers, offering a home to plenty of nesting birds (watch for red-winged blackbirds). Also watch for bobcats and coyotes, both of which have been spotted by hikers along the park's many trails. Be prepared for some steep climbs, but the reward can be a view all the way to Catalina on a clear day. Check the Chino Hills State Park Facebook page to get a sense of current conditions.
The Santa Monica Mountains are not known for large fields of colorful blooms. However, if you are looking for a variety of flowers or riparian (creekside) flowers, this is the perfect place to hike. The bloom is still heavily dependent on winter rains, so be sure to check the website to see what's blooming and where. Even without a magnificent bloom, the pockets of green buds and playing "I Spy" with beautiful flowers along the hike makes for a memorable and beautiful outing with kids.
Point Mugu State Park offers wildflowers, mountains, and sea views all in one hike. Photo by Mommy Poppins
Don't let the Malibu address confuse you; arriving at this park requires driving up PCH until you cross the county line into Ventura. Point Mugu has lovely beaches and camping as well as trails up into the mountains above the coast. A few seasons ago these slopes were charred and blackened from fire, and in many spots impassable, but rain shows us how nature heals after a fire. The wildflower display along the Backbone Trail is absolutely breathtaking.
Simi's Corriganville Park (which we know and love from its Faery Hunt shows in summer) was hit hard by fires a few years ago, but the springtime silver lining is to hike out and enjoy the fields of California poppies. Once a Western movie set turned amusement park, now it's a lovely spot for a hike with kids.
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Walker Canyon during a superbloom. Photo courtesy of Western Riverside County RCA, Facebook
If you head down the 15 toward Temecula, you'll notice a spot where people are slowing down to admire multitudes of California poppies. Although some drivers just pull off the highway and park, this regularly causes traffic issues during wildflower season. It's better to exit at Lake Street and then take the trail at the corner of Lake Street and Walker Canyon Road. The gravel trail is wide and goes for a few miles with great views of the blooms.
Don't want a long drive, or your party can't go hiking on dirt trails? Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont bills itself as California's Native Garden. Native plantings are organized by the plant community; there is also a replica Tongva village and marked accessibility routes. Plants bloom as they do in the wild, just alongside trails that are easy for strollers and little legs. The gardens are closed on Mondays and non-members are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance. Call to find out the bloom status.
It's a bit of a drive, but Idyllwild Nature Center in the San Jacinto Mountains is another excellent place to view colorful wildflower blooms. This park is one of the more developed places to see the flowers bloom, with restrooms, picnic tables, and even a gift shop! There's a Wildflower Day at the park that's usually held in late May. The Nature Center is open Thursday through Sunday from 9am-4pm.
It's a bit of a drive for a day trip, but the wildflower fields at Carrizo Plain National Monument make for a great side-trek on a California road trip. Carrizo Plain is located between the 5 and 101 freeways—the fastest way to get there is to head west on 166 after you pass through the Grapevine. That route is about a three-hour drive from LA. However, if you're looking for a more scenic route, take the 101 all the way up past San Luis Obispo and head east on 58. Mid-March to mid-April is the best time to catch the blooms. Call the visitor's center at 805.475.2035 to confirm whether the flowers are blooming.
Over 50 acres of blooms await in Carlsbad. Photo courtesy of The Flower Fields in Carlsbad
For guaranteed gorgeous blooms for miles, even in a dry year, visit the famous Flower Fields in Carlsbad. Because the fields are cultivated and watered, they can dazzle even when nature has decided to play coy. With 50-acres of ranunculus flowers overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a sweet pea maze, poinsettia, and orchid displays, there are plenty of flowers to wander through. Tired tots can also see the flowers from the back of an antique tractor, which provides tours of the fields, and before leaving families can indulge in a little PYO action at the 2-acre u-pick blueberry patch. Advanced reservation tickets are required and are available online. The fields are open only from March 1 through May 8. Is this stretching the definition of wildflower? Perhaps. But we say that when you've got kids and a state prone to drought, sometimes you just want to know you can tiptoe through the tulips (or other flowers) for some guaranteed gorgeousness and be home by bedtime.
Dorothy would love this field of poppies. Photo by Mommy Poppins
Post originally published March 26, 2014, and updated annually