10 Spectacular Wildflower Destinations For Spring Travelers
Nature is putting on a spectacular wildflower show with a brilliant palette of bright colors across North America.
Bring your camera, pull your vehicle over and wander a trail that lets you imagine you have entered into an impressionist painting. Drive a wildflower scenic route or through a park; get out and enjoy these unforgettable natural flower garden displays around us.
Abundant rains this year are seeding expectations of spectacular masses of blossoms across the fruited plains.
Before you go, check out recommendations by native plant societies in your area, search online for articles about wildflower viewing on park websites, automobile club magazines or tourism sites for ideas for road trips close to you. An illustrated field guidebook, specific for your region, arranged by bloom color is a great education tool, entertainer and resource for your trip.
Wildflower abundance varies by year and region, depending upon weather and water conditions–the recommended sites below are arranged by average expected peak bloom times; information is readily available on location websites.
Beginning in early March:
Tom McCall Preserve, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Located on the Historic Columbia River Highway (Hwy. 30) near the town of Rowena and Memaloose State Park, this preserve perches on a plateau overlooking gorgeous river and mountain views.
The old highway route winds above the canyon where covered wagons once traveled the Oregon Trail. Wander meandering trails with benches where you can enjoy the flowering color framed by glimpses of the river gorge and snowy, volcanic peaks.
Abundant blooms begin as early as February and extend through late summer. This park is worth a side trip for an “ahhh moment,” or a break for the whole carload from the stress of a long journey up Interstate 5.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California
Mid-March to April is usually the best time to see wildflowers at this famed flower-viewing site, located south of Palm Springs and within a day-trip’s reach of the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas.
Desert bloom time is short, abundant and intensely colored–some years are listed as “super-blooms.”
Camping is available in the park and the website pinpoints areas to see the best displays of color.
While you are there, swing north to nearby Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve where rolling hills and meadows, covered with dense carpets of dazzling orange, purple and gold, become enchanted as they flow and ripple in the breezes.
The Bluebonnet Trail, central Texas
March to April is the time and the Texas Hill Country is the place to explore this roughly 80-mile long string of towns, parks, preserves and roadsides extolling this state flower, a species of American Lupine known as “Texas Bluebonnet.”
Located east of the state capitol at Austin or the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, many community websites list suggested routes beginning at Ennis, Fredericksburg, Llano, Johnson City or Burnet and some recommend the “Willow City Loop” as a worthwhile side trip.
Fields turn a true red, white and blue, speckled with clumps of yellow and gold by Scarlet Flax, the white tipped, deep-blue “Bluebonnets,” White Lupine, Indian Paint-Brush, Black-Eyed Susans.
Photos of the intensely colored meadows, dense with blue flowers, often have the caption, “this is not retouched in any way” to assure doubters that the almost unbelievable landscape of color is real.
Plenty of seasonal events such as town festivals, food celebrations, fairs, pie-eating contests, gourmet restaurants and bakeries, wine and beer tastings along with plentiful inns and hotels make enjoying nature tasty and comfy, if you prefer not to camp.
April - May:
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you” says the folk song about this valley; it is especially true from April to late summer.
This park combines beauty with history, backpacking, and family camping explorations for any activity level. Over 500 miles of trails and roads to wander attract hikers from the adventurous back-country trekker to easy and accessible strolls.
Enjoy both mountain and valley vistas amid meadows or woodland natural gardens with picturesque flower names like trillium, bloodroot, cranesbill, Dutchman’s breeches, lady slippers and woodland violets right from your vehicle along Skyline Drive.
The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage is a phenomenon that draws thousands of visitors along the eastern mountains ranges from the Great North Woods down the Appalachians to the southern states.
To avoid too many beauty seekers, plan your visit on weekdays to the more popular parks, or choose less-visited sites like this gem.
Loblolly Swamp, Limberlost State Park, Geneva, Illinois
The Limberlost Swamp once covered over 13,000 acres, most of two counties in eastern Illinois.
The area was home to extensive wetland species, flocks of traveling birds, rare butterflies, moths and insects with islands of tall grasses and myriads of marsh flowers.
The popular 1909 novel, Girl of the Limberlost, brought attention to the destruction of this natural wetlands and its species by drainage for agriculture. Very little of the once-vast wetlands remain, but with protection as a park and Illinois’ commitment to extending the wetlands, successful restoration is occurring with more wildflowers and native grasses for visitors to see every year.
A museum and visitors’ center, wooden walkways through the wetland and over swamps, meadow and prairie trails along with naturalist-guided tours make this remarkable reclamation a great stop on your journey through the land of Abraham Lincoln.
Bull Run Regional Park, Centreville, Virginia
The almost 2-mile Bluebell Trail winds through the woods of this historic park located south of the Potomac River, not far from our nation’s capital.
The trail branches off the historic Occoquan Trail route founded by Native Americans, and is the site of two horrific battles of the Civil War. The quiet woods now teem in spring with carpets of bluebells and banks of rhododendrons under the shade of a hardwood wild land, where the thunder of cannon once threatened our country’s existence.
Well-maintained, flat trails are perfect for families and visitors of any age or ability. Over 25 varieties of wildflowers inspire deep and sublime enjoyment of nature; many exhibits, learning and history resources are available to enrich your visit.
The park features plentiful picnic areas as well as the Atlantis Waterpark for sliding and swimming, when you are through enjoying the flowers. Nine air-conditioned rustic cabins can be reserved in the park and family camping sites for those who seek accommodations nearby destinations in DC and northern Virginia.
May - July:
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Thousands of miles of prairies once covered the central US, with grasses and flowers that sometimes towered over a man’s head and meadow roots that were so deep and thick, houses were built with the stacked sod.
Blazes tens of miles long often burned the old grass, allowing new growth of tender green, ensuring the survival of the huge herds of bison that roamed this sea of grass.
National and state parks between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River often preserve areas of the native prairie where modern visitors can imagine the pristine wilderness that once existed in our country from ocean to ocean.
In May and June, this park is known for acres of yellow sunflowers, blue lupines and red Indian paintbrush that is brilliant against the background of weirdly upthrusting red pinnacles and eroded canyons that typify the Badlands.
Lose yourself in the high masses of flowers and tall native grasses of preserved prairie lands; maybe you’ll spot a herd of mustangs, antelope or bison–extraordinary sights in an extraordinary park.
Late June through August: flowers are still blooming at these cooler, high-altitude preserves.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes, Colorado
Abundant wildflowers are on view until late in the season in this amazingly beautiful park. Whether you are hiking in the backcountry for a week or just visiting for the day, this park has a route for you.
The website has a handy “wildflower identification” section arranged by color, listing the hundreds of wildflower species that you might come across. Free shuttle buses transport passengers to many destinations and loop trails in the park, their large windows framing the scenery - a comfortable tour in themselves.
Trails for families or those with limited energy traverse lush, ferny meadows covered with flowers. Little ponds and lakes sometimes have grazing moose or are dotted with beaver dens, their surrounding woods contain stumps chewed to a pencil-point by these large, engineering rodents.
Backcountry visitors sometimes pass moose, antelope and mountain sheep. The park has stables where you can choose to experience the flowers from the back of a horse, if you don’t want to hike.
Vehicle routes include the stellar vistas of the Trail Ridge route, the highest paved highway in any National Park, and the dramatic Old Fall River Road, where the canyon between steep mountains plunges down to the river, where groves of quaking aspens quiver around flowering alpine meadows.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
According to naturalist JohnMuir, “…the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.”
A 14,400+ foot high, snow-topped sleeping volcano towers over the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, and has some of the best wildflower viewing in the US; both forests and meadows abound with blooms.
One meadow is called “Paradise” because of its beautiful and abundant flowers and described on the park website as “a summertime Utopia.”
Paradise Inn is one of the hotels within the park and the jumping-off point for many flower seekers. Both camping and hotel accommodations are available to prolong your visit. Mount Rainier NP has trails to provide both the energetic and saunterer with an enjoyable adventure in nature.
Travelers can also view wildflowers from the comfort of their car on the paved roads entering the park. Be sure to check the website for weather conditions and closures; the site has a flower identifier section and separate flower viewing guides for the park's three regions: forest, subalpine and alpine.
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
Located east of Cedar City, 260 wildflower varieties have generated a Wildflower Festival at this geologic wonder of deep, striped canyons and mesas.
The bloom-covered cliffs and trails usually peak in July, with the festival scheduled during these times; check the website for accurate dates.
Family activities in the park are planned and led by the staff, the website lists trails to hike and scenic roads to drive featuring wildflower viewing for any energy and ability level and provides suggestions for routes, camping sites and fun. Nearby Cedar City has dining and lodging choices, entertainment and activities for everyone.