Get Ready: Where to See Wildflowers Already Blooming Across the U.S.
Technicolor dreamscapes await in these states.
If you’re on the hunt for wildflowers, you probably already know about the poppy show around parts of Southern California. Oh, but dear reader, our country is vast, colorful, and beautiful, and there are hundreds of gorgeous spots where you can get your wildflower on (safely, lest public lands hate you). All across the US, colorful blooms are wriggling their way to the surface, transforming drab landscapes into technicolor dreamscapes to the delight of anthophiles everywhere (it means flower-lovers—we learned a new word and wanted to share).
Now’s the time to start planning the chase, and if you need those buttercups and bluebonnets, those coneflowers and azaleas, there’s a spot near—or very, very far—from your backyard. Pack your best matching outfit, stay on the g-d trails, and get to one of these wild, wild gardens of Mother Nature.
Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona
Best time to visit: Mid-March through April
The Mexican poppies have already started appearing in Arizona’s Picacho Peak State Park, an under-the-radar wildflower star—and perhaps best flower-spotting in Arizona. Since prehistoric times, travelers have been enjoying its bounty; the peak itself is part of a volcanic flow, and it holds a place in history as the site of the Battle of Picacho Pass, the largest Civil War clash to take place in Arizona. During superbloom years, its hills are ablaze in a sea of yellow, interspersed with gangly Saguaro cacti, bladderpods, chuparosa, globemallow, brittlebush, and various cacti species. That’s not this year, but if you’re seeing even the regular blooms for the first time, it might as well be.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
Best time to visit: February through April
Run, don’t walk, to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, on the eastern side of San Diego County. Though officials aren’t sure how this season will yet fare, with six inches of rain in December, it’s looking like we’re on track for a solid early March bloom. Patches of desert agave, cactus barrels, desert apricot, and purple dune verbena are common delights, especially in shadier areas where the ground retains moisture longer. And if there are any additional wet sprinkles come mid-April, there may be more, longer bursts of color. Try hiking along the canyon trails and keep up to date with the park’s Wildflower Hotline: 760-767-4684. (And if you’re in the area anyway, nearby Salton Sea gives the opportunity to get a little desert weird.)
Glacier National Park, Montana
Best time to visit: June to mid-July
Check your allergies before heading to Montana’s Glacier National Park. It’s home to over 1,000 species of wildflowers, including beloved Glacier lilies that emerge as the snowfields melts and bear grass (not a grass, but another member of the lily family used by Indigenous peoples for basket weaving and medicine). In the early summer, the park bursts with purple asters, spiky lupines, short-lived blanket flowers, and showy Lewis Monkeyflowers against red rock outcroppings. And bring those binoculars—you may be privy to your own mini-safari of bighorn sheep, mountain goats, large mule deer, and bears.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Best time to visit: Late June through July
Beginning in late June, the Rocky Mountain town of Crested Butte earns its nickname as the wildflower capital of Colorado, with blooms like Mule’s Ear sunflower, the medicinal heartleaf arnica, and blue columbine (the state flower) stretching from the top of the peaks all the way down to the city of Gunnison. (Keep an eye out, too, for the amazingly named Elephantella, Sky Pilot, and sneezeweed.) Swing through in early July for a weeklong wildflower festival with over 200 programs including hikes, art workshops and photography classes.
Death Valley National Park, California
Best time to visit: Mid-February to mid-July
The largest national park in the Lower 48 is also the hottest, driest, and lowest. Which means it takes a confluence of circumstances to produce a decent wildflower bloom: an absence of drying winds, sufficient warmth from the sun, and deep-soaking, gentle rains spaced out over the winter months. But even if blankets of flowers aren’t in the cards, you may still spot daisy-like desert golds, golden evening primroses, desert dandelions, grape soda lupines, and desert sagebrushes. And if you’re extra lucky, you’ll see the rare and endangered Eureka Dunes evening primrose—a bucket-list item for bloom-spotters worthy of bragging rights.
Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve, California
Best time to visit: Mid-March to early May
A tiny piece of good news: Oft-Instagrammed Antelope Valley in northeast Los Angeles County looks to be doing much better than last year, when much was dry and barren. And the bloom has actually already begun as of mid-February: keel fruit, red maids, hairy lotus, filaree, fiddlenecks, and even the Joshua trees(!) are showing signs of a colorful spring.
That being said, if you go, don’t ruin it: In the past, the fields of poppies, fiddlesticks, and forget-me-nots were such a sensation that visitors lost their shit and trampled wherever they pleased just to get the shot (someone even landed a helicopter in the preserve.) Let’s all try to make sure the flowers can still come up next year too.
Best time to visit: July through August
Utah’s stunning Cedar Breaks National Monument sits at over 10,000 feet, overlooking a half-mile red geologic amphitheater which, in July, transforms into a vibrant carpet of 260 wildflower species. They’re such a spectacle, they have their own festival. A few trails like Spectra Point and Ramparts Overlook will get you close to the action around the rim, but the easier two-mile trip around Alpine Pond gets you a less-taxing overview. Be sure to download the app beforehand, which will help you identify 40 of the park’s most common wildflowers.
Central and Southeastern Texas
Best time to visit: End of March to mid-April
Good news: Texas is bluebonnet central pretty much every year. If you want a no-fail spot, this might be it, but you’ll have to deal with a little choice-paralysis. A few cities compete for your attention—Ennis is apparently the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas, while Chappell Hill holds the Official Bluebonnet Festival of Texas this year on April 9–10. Not to be outdone, a couple hours away Burnet has a competing festival on the same weekend, and the tiny Brenham, near Chappell Hill, is part of the 80-mile-long Bluebonnet Trail (it’s also the home of the delicious Blue Bell Creamery). While you’re roaming the roads, keep an eye out for non-bluebonnet fare, like trout lilies, buttercups, four-nerve daisies, violets, and Texas mountain laurel flowers. All in all, Texas is home to some 5,000 native species.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Best time to visit: Mid-March through end of summer
It’s just 75 miles away from DC, but Shenandoah National Park is a world apart, with cascading waterfalls and 1,862 species of wildflowers. Excited lil’ buggers
like the witchy-sounding bloodroot begin to poke their heads out in spring, along with purple and yellow violet, pink lady's slippers, and wild geraniums. By May, it’s time for pink azaleas; in June, white mountain laurels; and fashionably late milkweed and orange touch-me-nots emerge in summer. Basically show up any time and you’re covered. Oh yeah, and do the Skyline Drive.
Fort Pierre National Grassland, South Dakota
Best time to visit: Summer
Come summer, the 116,000 grassy acres of Fort Pierre National Grassland—the setting of Dances with Wolves—teem with wildflowers that have been blooming on the Great Plains since the early days of the explorers. Come for purple spiderwort, daisies, bluebells, blue flax, red columbine, purple coneflower, daisies, and bellflowers, and stay for some wildlife, like burrowing owls, coyotes, bison, and prairie dogs.
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin
Best time to visit: May–June
Pronounced “SCHWA-mug-ahn nick-o-lay,” this fancy-sounding national forest is a serious escape hatch for that North Woods life in Wisconsin, and those woods definitely include wildflowers. Nearly a dozen spots here are listed by the Forest Service as wildflower viewing areas, so pick your poison: ancient volcanic outcroppings, waterfalls, and wading through ferns at St. Peters Dome; chilling lakeside, looking for the totally carnivorous purple pitcher plant at Lake Namekagon; maybe traipsing through the old-growth trees of the Argonne Experimental Forest, keeping an eye out for leather-leaf, yellow bluebead lily, false mayflower, and creeping snowberry (and the three-toed woodpecker and boreal chickadee!). There’s much to do here and a million #northwoods cabins to base yourself out of, all to get your wildflower on.