Last year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world visited Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (SP), Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA), which experienced exceptional wildflower blooms. These iconic parks were carpeted with white, purple, red, orange and yellow — bright colors in landscapes that are normally brown. Often short-lived, these rare blooms occur when precipitation levels in the desert areas are high, combined with years-long drought, which eliminates grasses and weeds that take up nutrients. These conditions cause wildflowers to thrive.
Historically, wildflowers bloom from late February to early April, hitting their peak in mid-March. However, there are many factors that contribute to the success of the wildflowers including the proper amount of rain at the appropriate time of year along with favorable temperatures. Changing weather, such as frost, heat, and wind, affect the wildflowers, making it impossible to predict exactly where, when and if the wildflowers will bloom. At Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, flowers peak in late March and typically last through the end of April.
Depending on the park, you may see colorful California poppies, sand verbena, evening primrose, popcorn flowers or desert lilies. The flower blooms –– whether moderate or “super” –– attract thousands of visitors to the parks. California State Parks welcomes all to enjoy the wildflowers, and, in the interest of safety and conservation, ask visitors to please respect the landscapes by staying on designated trails, and taking only pictures. Leaving the wildflowers for the next visitor to enjoy is not only common courtesy but picking wildflowers is also prohibited.
Should the state experience significant blooms, California State Parks wants its visitors to be prepared and be knowledgeable of the area, weather and body limitations. A list of state parks with wildflower bloom information and updates, park rules and tips is available at parks.ca.gov/WildflowerBloom.
Below are some tips and park rules to make viewing the wildflower blooms more enjoyable:
Respect the Landscapes
• Each park has unique landscapes. Stay on designated trails whenever possible. Tread lightly in the desert. Do not trample flowers.
• When viewing the blooms, take only pictures. Flower picking is prohibited.
• Help keep the landscapes pristine, leaving it better than when you arrived by packing out anything you packed in — Pack it in, Pack it out.
• If dogs are permitted, they must remain on a leash, on designated roads, in campgrounds and picnic areas. Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails, in the backcountry or in the wildflower fields. Do not leave dogs unattended in your vehicles — temperatures can reach lethal levels.
• Drone use may be prohibited. If drone use is allowed, a filming permit from individual state park units must be requested.
Understand the Area
• Cell coverage can be spotty or non-existent in some parks – be prepared.
• Read about your state park destination online and download a map prior to your visit, especially if you are visiting a desert. Many GPS and map apps will take you to dirt roads requiring 4-wheel drive vehicles.
• Know your vehicle’s limits. Know which areas allow off-highway vehicle recreation.
• Visit the parks during the week and arrive early to beat the crowds.
• Remember to pull off the roadway when viewing wildflowers, wildlife or to take photos. Please leave roadways clear for vehicle traffic.
• Leave an itinerary of your trip with a family member or friend with information such as time of departure and expected return, site visit location, and names of everyone in your group. This will ensure law enforcement personnel have a better understanding of your location in the event of a rescue.
Check the Weather
• While planning your trip, check the weather conditions. Be prepared and plan for all types of weather.
• Make sure your equipment and clothing are appropriate for the expected weather.
Know Your Body Limitations
• Bring plenty of food and water. There are often no restaurants, gasoline stations or stores near the bloom areas.
• Drink plenty of water prior to your visit to remain hydrated and avoid heat-related emergencies.
• Outdoor conditions can change quickly, especially in the desert. Bring sunscreen, a hat, layers of clothing and closed-toe shoes to avoid injury.
• Walk at a pace that allows you to talk easily. If you are too out of breath to speak, you are probably working too hard. Take a rest or stop exercising.
• In the event of an emergency, call 9-1-1.
• Anza-Borrego Desert SP
◦ Hike Slot Canyon. Squeeze your way through this narrow passage as sandstone walls rise 50 feet above you.
◦ Visit Font’s Point: Enjoy majestic views of the Borrego Badlands which take you back in time as you look over the desert.
◦ Stargaze. The park was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2018 making it an ideal location to view the stars, planets and other wonders in the night sky not seen from any cit
• Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Eight miles of trails. The hiking trails run through the gently rolling hills and include a paved section for wheelchair access, making the park a wonderful place to hike and explore any season
◦ Visit the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center. The center opens March 1 through Mother's Day, with wildflower and wildlife exhibits, an orientation video, a gallery of Jane's botanical watercolor paintings and a gift shop.
◦ View the bloom from home. The poppy reserve has a live poppy camera.
• Hungry Valley SVRA
◦ Tejon Pass wildflowers: In spring, California Poppies, Goldfields, Lupine, Tidy Tips, and other flowers turn the grassy hillsides brilliant shades of orange, yellow and purple.
◦ Ride the trails: More than 130 miles of scenic trails for motorcycle, All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV), dune buggies, and 4x4 recreation.
◦ Perfect for camping. The park has approximately 150 campsites with some provide shade ramadas, picnic tables, fire rings, and vault restrooms.
• Red Rock Canyon SP
◦ About an hour away from the poppy reserve, the desert park is currently carpeted with goldfields
◦ Scenic Views. Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes, and spectacular rock formations
◦ Equestrian Use. Visitors can bring their horse on all roads in the park, with the exception of seasonally closed areas.
• Ocotillo Wells SVRA
◦ Ride the Youth Track. The track provides a safe riding area for children to practice off-highway vehicle (OHV) riding. It’s for children 12 and under.
◦ Visit Devil’s Slide. This 200 foot-high granite and sand island is named for the challenge it presents to OHV enthusiasts. It is actually an ancient decomposing mountaintop. A dark coat of desert varnish covers the rocks as a result of exposure to sunlight.
◦ Enjoy the Discovery Center. Learn about the desert through exhibits, talk with knowledgeable staff, enjoy the accessible nature trail, shaded picnic area and stop by during the evening for the night program at the amphitheater.
California State Parks encourages the public to explore all of the recreational activities available at the parks, such as wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, biking and interpretive programs for adults and children. For specific park information on these activities, wildflower blooms, maps, and road conditions, visit parks.ca.gov/WildflowerBloom.