Where to See the Most Spectacular Wildflowers Across the U.S.
From California to Montana, from spring to fall.
We may have gotten a taste of wildflower season from Taylor Swift’s floral extravaganza at the Grammys, but now that spring has sprung it’s time to get after the real thing. All across the country, 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).
Below, a list of some of the best places to see wildflowers, from California to Montana, from spring to fall. Just show up with your camera, maybe a matching outfit, and don’t forget to check all the up-to-date restrictions. And please—PLEASE—stay on designated trails; this is one of nature’s most spectacular, and spectacularly delicate, displays. Trampling on blooms to get the ‘gram can cause serious damage for years to come.
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 do not expect an abundance of wildflowers this season, some blooms are happening, like, now. Patches of desert agave, cactus barrels, desert apricot, and purple dune verbena have been spotted, especially in shadier areas where the ground retains moisture longer. A recent wet sprinkling means that come mid-April there may be more 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.)
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
Oft-Instagrammed Antelope Valley in northeast Los Angeles County is struggling a bit this year. It still looks dry and barren, and will need a few more douses of rainwater before sprouting. But maybe that’s a good thing: 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.) A trip this year will definitely be more subdued but maybe that just means you’ll appreciate what you see all the more. Nature is healing and all of that.
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 star when it comes to flower-spotting. 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. On superbloom years, its hills are ablaze in a sea of yellow, interspersed with gangly Saguaro cacti, bladderpods, chuparosa, globemallow, brittlebush, and various cacti species.
Central and Southeastern Texas
Best time to visit: End of March to mid-April
Good news: Despite a crippling winter that set records and left millions without power, forecasters predict a strong bluebonnet showing in Texas this spring. A few cities compete for your attention: Ennis is apparently the Official Bluebonnet City Of Texas, while Chappell Hill holds the Official Blue Bonnet Festival of Texas this year on April 10-11. 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 Blue Bell Creamery—yes, you can visit). While you’re roaming the roads keep an eye out for non-bluebonnet fare, like trout lilies, buttercups, four-nerve daisy, violets, and Texas mountain laurel flowers.
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 wildflower, 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 Americans 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 the state flower Blue Columbine 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.
Best time to visit: July through August
Utah’s stunning Cedar Breaks 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 2-mile trip around Alpine Pond gets you a less taxing overview. Be sure to download the app beforehand, which will help you identity 40 of the park’s most common wildflowers.
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. Wildflowers 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—a 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.