Wildflowers bloom all over California – from the desert in winter months, to the High Sierra in mid summer. Remember that the timing is everything, since most of these precious, delicate beauties only last a week or so. Out there alone, all day in the bright sunshine, whipping in the seasons strongest breezes. Flora!
The higher the elevation, the later the bloom.
Lower elevation deserts begin to show as early as February and higher elevation peaks thaw in May. Wilderness meadows and flowers can be found in the mountains in summer. Generally in California, Springtime – between MARCH and JUNE is the best viewing time.
The official state flower of California is the POPPY
Spring usually means it’s warming up, to a great wildflower season in California. Time to get outdoors more! Hike, bike and picnic near the wildflowers and see some poppies.
California Golden Poppies can be found throughout the state, in small patches near the roadways, rolling hills behind vineyards, in high desert flats (where wind gets whipping) or even out near a ranch, with oak hills and fields of golden orange.
POPPIES can blanket hillsides, resulting in a show stopping event – which can be deadly on freeways? N of L.A. interstate 5 (the Grapevine) TEJON PASS (Lebec, Gorman, Junction 138) >> Please pull to nearest exit and stop the car. (It will be safest and well worth the 10 minute stretch break.)
Golden poppies can be found all over California. Flowers like lupine and owls clover can often be found nearby. Wildflowers may only last a few weeks, so go enjoy them while they last.
Bright yellow, gold, deep orange – or any shade in between!
Remember, stay on thetrail! Getting a picture of that one really nice poppy will crush all the plants along the way, and compact the ground leaving lifeless bare dirt for the next year or longer. If someone else has started a trail, do not add to the damage. Please be a responsible park visitor and leave the park as nice as you found it.
Or you can avoid the crowds & tour buses at the Poppy Park to head off on your own adventure. All along both sides of high desert Hwy 138 you can find fields of California Poppies, from the small town of Neenach, CA east to Hwy 14. Plus the hills of Gorman are usually full of color.
San Diego Backcountry
600,000 acres of SoCal desert
BLOOM: February thru May Anza Park elevations range from low to high. Lowest near eastern border of park (next to the Salton Sea) to the upper reaches of the western slopes @ 4000′ of the Laguna mountains. Lower elevations sprout up first; Micro flowers, Easter-egg-color splendor in the dry washes. Higher elevations bloom later (along w/ areas on San Diego County Rd S-2, the Great Overland Stage Route)
Drive from Temecula to Warner Springs, and then proceed east – out to the Salton Sea via Back Road Highway #S22 (Montezuma Grade). A great route to take thru the Borrego State Park – for the full gamut in vegetation & altitude. Grapevine Canyon is an alternate off road route down a scenic canyon. Culp Valley has a small campground, plus lots of boulders and decent views to the Borrego Valley. Off the highway, on dirt, one-lane side roads lead to many primitive spots. Perfect for private picnics, stargazing or overnight camping.
Several miles south of the town of Needles numerous desert washes cross the highway with dirt roads leading off into both directions. Turtle Mountain is just one dirt road to explore in this region, but there are many more unmarked, secluded roads. This region is perfect for “campers in-route” traveling who need a quick overnight camp spot (off the freeway).
Turtle Mountain Road is a one lane dirt road that runs next to a wash, in between Turtle Mountain Wilderness and Stepladder Mountain Wilderness. Leading approx 12 miles from US Highway 95 to the northern edge of the desert wilderness. The Turtle Mountain route continues westward to meet Water Road with Old Woman Mountain Wilderness nearby. Sunflower Springs Road continues north to Essex @ Interstate 40
BLM signage along US Hwy 95 is minimal. Look for vertical brown markers w/ reflectors, numbers or names. Driving slower than typical traffic, coast at 50 mph and keep your eyes peeled to the west side. Turtle Mountain Rd is marked at the pavement, but the marker is very small.
Eastern California Desert Wildflowers
Exploring the eastern side of Southern California, one can find the Colorado River and Arizona border region an excellent destination for winter camping. Springtime offers wildflower blooms, open camping and decent weather with sunny 70 degree days. Wildflowers and BLM beauty awaits those who venture off the paved routes.
Palo Verde trees line the washes and much vegetation can be seen throughout this remote region. Cacti include the cholla, ocotillo, barrel, beavertail, just to name a few. Wildflower blooms here are just as good as Anza Borrego Desert SP.
MARCH & APRIL are both prime months for the desert bloom
Drive more than a mile from the highway if you plan to camp in peace and quiet, as the overnight truck traffic goes all hours.
RV accessible camp spots are few and far in between. They can be found in large, level pullouts close to the main road, but you will be hearing traffic zoom by. Some dirt roads are in better shape than others; Seasonal storms in the low desert can wash out even paved roads. 4×4 may be needed in some areas.
Open camping in this desert is free and there is plenty of room to spread out. Imagine not seeing anyone pass by your camp or drive down your road for days. Camping in a sandy wash may seem appealing, but you best know the weather forecast and if rain is at all predicted nearby, be prepared to break camp (in the middle of the night) before a flash flood hits.
The Needles BLM Rangers Office is located on US Hwy 95, on the south edge of town and they can provide maps and more information.
Needles BLM Office
1303 S. US Hwy 95
Needles, CA 92363
Lake Havasu BLM Office
2610 Sweetwater Avenue
Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406
By far one of the best viewing areas for native California desert flora in the whole state. Autumn rain amounts determine the next year’s Spring bloom. If it rained real good all over SoCal before New Years Eve, chances are better for a favorable showing of color.
Low elevations, washes, badlands, dry lake beds bloom first in February, followed by March for mid altitude canyons and mountains. Highest desert peaks may not bloom until May.
April is usually the best month for the wildflowers; it is also the prime time for Spring Break camping. Open car camping for free – all over this huge California State Park. The tourists typically head over to the town of Borrego Springs, to Borrego Palm Canyon and the visitors center; but the REAL wildflowers are along remote stretches of highway, and on the DIRT BACK ROADS. Many roads are passenger car accessible, for at least the first mile, so don’t think you must have a 4×4 vehicle for just simple exploring.
Old Kane Spring Road parallels California SR Highway 78 a few miles from Ocotillo Wells, in east Anza Borrego Desert. A graded dirt road that can often gets sandy and you might need to keep you speed up certain soft spots. A few dead end canyons lead southward; hidden camp sites can be found out this way if you have the time to look. Harper Canyon, perhaps. See below for more on camp sites.
Spring Wildflowers can be quite spectacular out along this desert trail. Towering red-tipped ocotillo in some canyons serve as great backdrops to a perfect picnic lunch.
The Kane dirt route peels off the highway about a mile east of an area known as The Narrows. Marked on the highway as a small hiking trail, the highway curves at a narrow section of the canyon, as San Felipe Creek wash carves its way through the harsh landscape.
The best primitive camping in this area is actually west of The Narrows. You might need a high clearance vehicle to reach some spots and a good map with the creek/wash names. Make sure to look for these –
Quartz Vein Wash
On the opposite the highway is Ocotillo Wells SVRA, where off road enthusiasts can get their kicks. Wind caves can be found in Butte Canyon, where the 4×4 trails abound. Kane Springs intersects Split Mountain Road. The Elephant Trees, Split Mountain and more wind caves are south of the railroad tracks.