Spring is undeniably a perfect time in Southern California, when even the arid desert comes to life. And as spring is approaching, so is the potential for wild flowers and even a vibrant California “super bloom” in some areas. But what is a super bloom?
The “super bloom” is a phenomenon where California’s deserts get a higher than average bloom. While in other states an abundance of winter precipitation can cause a lot of trouble, in California rain is always a blessing. Usually, the desert blooms are very small or even inexistent, if it’s a dry year. But if we are lucky and get a lot of rain in winter, we can hope a superbloom.
During the super bloom California’s deserts are magically transformed into colorful gardens full of wild flowers. Even the most arid deserts like Death Valley will look like they have been painted with with color! There is yellow, purple, red, blue and even green on the usually brown landscape.
But unfortunately the much anticipated super bloom is something quite rare in California, which may happen only every 10-15 years. However, in the past decade we already enjoyed three super blooms: one in 2017, one in 2019 and one this year, in 2023.
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Where to See the Desert Super Bloom in Southern California
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Perhaps the most popular place to admire wild flowers in California is the Poppy Reserve at Antelope Valley. In spring this spot in the Mojave Desert pops up with orange poppies as far as the eye can see. There are more than 1,700 acres of poppy fields and 8 miles of beautiful trails where you can enjoy other wild flowers.
Generally, the flowers bloom in March through April, but the bloom varies widely each year. Sometimes, if we have a dry year in California, there may be no wild flowers at all. But if it’s a rainy winter, the California Poppy Reserve will see a super bloom, which sometimes starts as early as mid February and lasts till May.
However, before you hit the road, make sure you check the live webcam at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.
Parking for the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is at 15101 Lancaster Road and the Visitor Center opens on March 1st, from 8am to 5pm daily.
Entrance Fee is $10 per vehicle (admitting the passengers of a single vehicle).
TRIVIA: Did you know that the Golden Poppy became California’s state flower in March, 1903?
Diamond Valley Lake Wildflower Trail
Another great place to enjoy the California super bloom is the Wildflower Trail at Diamond Valley Lake. This 2.1-mile loop trail near Hemet, California, is an unbelievably scenic place offering spectacular views of the snow capped San Jacinto Mountains and the Diamond Valley Lake.
The trail, which follows the shoreline, takes an average of 53 min to complete and is accessible from the Marina’s parking lot. The views as well as the surroundings are absolutely amazing!
Among the flowers you’ll see at Diamond Valley Lake are yellow rancher’s fiddle-neck, red maids, purple Canterbury bells, deep blue arroyo lupines, and of course the famous orange California poppies.
Parking is $11 ($5 for those 62 years and older), and the trail fee is $4 per person. The trail is open from Wednesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), from 6:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In addition to hiking, the lake offers opportunities for boating and fishing. For boat rental and fishing information check the lake’s website at dvmarina.com.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
If you visit California’s Anza Borrego Desert during the super bloom you’ll be amazed by the colorful array of wild flowers. In springtime, Anza Borrego State Park looks more like a big garden than a desert! According to the park officials, in 2017 was the biggest bloom the desert has seen in 20 years. However, we also saw the one in 2019 and 2023 and still can’t decide which one was bigger.
Anza Borrego is a nice place to visit during other times of the year as well. Its numerous hiking trails make it a desirable weekend getaways from Los Angeles!
Other Attractions in Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego desert in at its best in spring. Many people come here for the beautiful wild flowers, but there are also quite a few beautiful trails you should hike while visiting the park. The easiest and most spectacular one is to Font Point. This hike will reward you with panoramic views of the rugged landscape around.
Another interesting hike is the Narrows Earth Trail. This short 0.4-mile loop takes only 10-12 minutes to complete and is a nice snapshot into the desert geology.
The Visitor Center at the Anza Borrego State Park is located at 200 Palm Canyon Dr, in Borrego Springs. The easiest way to find it is to drive to the far west end of Palm Canyon Drive. The parking lot is open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Dogs are allowed in the park.
Entrance fee is $10 per vehicle per day
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to visit in California, when it gets its fare share of wild flowers and sometimes even a super bloom. There are flowers everywhere: dune primrose, beavertail cactus, sand verbena, chuparosa, mariposa lily and wild Canterbury bells.
Even the Joshua tree itself is in bloom, a rare and spectacular event that doesn’t happen every year. What is even more interesting about this phenomenon is that it’s synchronized. The bloom happens in the same year, at about the same time throughout the desert areas. The ocotillo and beavertail cactus are also in bloom, so don’t miss them.
With such a display of beauty, there is no surprise that visitors from all over the world are flocking to see the park every year. However, most people visit the Joshua Tree National Park as a day trip from different parts of California.
Joshua Tree is one of the U.S. national parks close to Las Vegas and also close to Los Angeles, so it makes an easy day trip from both these cities. The Park is a massive desert, spreading over an area of 790,000 square acres.
The California super bloom is so rare and so special, that looky-loos seem to forget about the torrid temperatures in the desert and sometimes end up fainting from dehydration. So don’t forget to brings lots of water with you when visiting the park.
The Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center is located in downtown Twentynine Palms, at 6533 Freedom Way. However, if you’re arriving at the main Joshua Tree Entrance on Highway 62, there is a Visitor Center on Park Blvd. where you should stop to purchase your park pass.
Entrance Fee is $30.00/7-day vehicle permit (admitting the passengers of a single vehicle)
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FAQ About the Superbloom in Southern California
When is the Best Time to Visit the California State Parks for the Super Bloom?
Springtime is the best season to see the desert bloom in Southern California, usually from late February and till mid March. But the super bloom depends a lot on the amount of rainfall and temperatures we get in spring. Bottom line, if you want to see a fantastic super bloom in California, you should pray for rain!
Unfortunately, this short lived event is rather unpredictable, which is why I recommend checking for current updates on the local California Wildflower bloom. The most accurate information is usually posted on each park’s website.
I also recommend visiting the parks during the week days, if you can. Weekends may be very crowded, as everybody wants to enjoy the beautiful wild flowers.
What Time of the Day to Visit the California Desert Super Bloom?
The best time of the day to visit the desert is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, just before the sun sets. Evenings are particularly beautiful in the desert. When the evening breeze starts blowing, the temperature gets cooler and the sweet smell of wild flowers begins filling up the air.
Mid-day temperatures may raise up to 92ºF in the desert, even in spring. So make sure you come early if you want to enjoy this heavenly scenery!
NOTE: One of the best places to see the super bloom in Southern California is Walker Canyon, near Lake Elsinore. Unfortunately, in 2023 the park was closed to all visitors for the duration of the poppy bloom “for safety reasons” (yea!) The mayor declared that during the super bloom of 2019, too many people were visiting the poppy fields, thus ‘ruining‘ the flowers and crowding the neighborhoods. Hopefully the officials will revisit this decision and reopen the canyon for next year’s bloom!
A Final Word
The super bloom may be a rare event, but regular wild flower blooms are always happening in desert areas in Southern California. Unless, of course, it’s a very dry year. Therefore, you’ll never go wrong when planning a trip to the desert in spring.