Researchers speculate that the evolution of humans unfolded in two-step with the development of flowering botanicals, suggesting that early primates developed strong vision and nimble fingers to nab flowers and fruit from the ends of branches. Whether this is true remains to be seen, but the relationship we have with wildflowers is one of unmistakable attraction. This year’s wildflower super bloom is but the most recent example, where in California the hills of Anza-Borrego and the Carrizo Plain have erupted with color visible from space and attracted thousands to shoot selfies in poppy-specked scenes.
So where does a wildflower wanderer go to find these budding beauties? The answer is all about timing. Though no one can accurately predict when a bloom will occur, the spring wildflower season typically begins in March or April. The precise timing depends on a variety of factors, temperature, rainfall, and humidity among them, and the amount of time that the right factors linger. In the desert, rain in small doses throughout the winter ensures that seeds will germinate, but too much rain could encourage rot. Consistent, warm days are also important; cool nights stay the growth of competitors, but temperatures that exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit threaten to scorch or desiccate seedlings. All of these factors will vary with elevation, where cooler temperatures tend to delay wildflower blooms into the later months of spring.
The community of wildflower lovers is the best resource to find and track wildflower blooms. The Columbia River Gorge, alpine meadows on Mount Rainier, the California hills of Anza-Borrego, Joshua Tree National Park, and other wildflower hotspots are tracked by enthusiasts who report their findings on the web. DesertUSA publishes regular wildflower reports of the desert Southwest and California. Wildflowersearch.com is a wildflower search engine that offers a percentage of confidence for wildflower blooms anywhere in the U.S., sorted by species. The Theodore Payne Foundation has a fantastic wildflower hotline that provides updates every Friday from March through May. And of course, call your park ranger, and search through Instagram for geotagged posts to see where and how intensely the flowers are blooming.
Last year was an exceptional one for wildflowers along the West Coast thanks to exceptional rainfall over the winter, and California experienced a super bloom for the record books. Super blooms are relatively rare phenomena, but you can still find beautiful wildflower hikes when the time is right, and these 45 adventures are some of the best places to find them in the West.
*Please note that due to the recent Eagle Creek fire, some hikes on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge are closed.