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How to See California's Super Bloom

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 3/13/2019 Caitlin Morton

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(Provided by Reuters)

Southern California may be known for its hot and dry landscapes (hello, Death Valley), but the normally arid region is currently awash in bright yellow, pink, and purple blooms, thanks to the state's unusually plentiful showers this past winter. This is commonly known as a "super bloom", a rare phenomenon in which an area's number of wildflowers exceed typical spring blooms—in this case, millions of tiny blooms popping up in typically barren deserts and canyons.

In order for a super bloom to occur, there must be a perfect combination of rain and favorable temperatures (plus an absence of damaging winds), hence the rarity of the phenomenon. We usually only get to see a super bloom in California about once every decade, but this year's bloom is only a couple years behind the second most recent occurrence in 2017. Two super blooms in two years? We're here for it.

So where exactly can one find these legendary fields of bright flowers this year? Check out the list of colorful locations below, and be sure to visit sooner rather than later: The super bloom may only last for another week or so in most locations. a yellow flower in front of a mountain © Getty

Lake Elsinore

One of the best places to see poppies this year is Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, a lakeside city southeast of L.A. Since the flowers popped up in early March, about 1,000 people have swarmed the area every day, reports the Los Angeles Times, causing traffic to back up nearly 20 miles at times on the interstate. But if you can bear the traffic and crowds, you'll be rewarded seas of purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers.

To get to the site from Los Angeles, exit Lake Street off Interstate 15 and turn onto Walker Canyon Road. Be sure to obey the parking signs and stay on the trail to avoid trampling the flowers. The Lake Elsinore Chamber of Commerce predicts the bloom will only be around for another week or so, at which point changing weather and hungry insects will strip the colors away.

Joshua Tree National Park

As if you needed another reason to visit Joshua Tree National Park, the site now has a super bloom of its own: dense swathes of tall, purple lupine blooming in the desert, with yellow dandelions and poppies mixed in. From L.A., take exit 168 for Cottonwood Springs Road off the 10 Freeway and head north into the park, then hike along the Bajada Nature Trail to get the best views of the flowers, which are peaking this week.

a colorful flower on a plant: Wildflowers fill the hillsides along Walker Canyon Road in Lake Elsinore, California. © Getty Wildflowers fill the hillsides along Walker Canyon Road in Lake Elsinore, California.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Fields of wildflowers have started to bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California (about 90 miles northeast of San Diego). The California Department of Parks and Recreation recommends the following locations for spotting different species of blooms (updated March 12, 2019):

  • For purple sand verbena: Drive east on Highway S-22, then park in the large pullout between mile markers 30 and 31.
  • For desert sunflower, brown-eyed primrose, desert lilies, and lupine: Drive east on Highway S-22, park by mile marker 35, and walk into Arroyo Salado, Coachwhip Canyon, or Ella Wash. (Flowers are currently nearing their peak.)
  • For yellow poppies: Visit the "Texas Dip" on Borrego Springs Road just north of Highway 78, or the Cactus Loop Trail across from the Tamarisk Grove campground.
  • For yellow desert dandelions: Drive north on DiGiorgio Road in Borrego Springs.
  • For pretty much everything: Head to the popular wildflower field along Henderson Canyon Road, between DiGiorgio Road and S-22.

Many of the above sites are just seeing the beginning stages of a super bloom, so as long as weather conditions remain steady, we could potentially see peak blooms last through late March or into early April.

Diamond Valley Lake

Diamond Valley Lake's wildflower trail opened on March 9 in the southwest Riverside County reserve, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Golden poppies have just started to spring up in the fields around the reservoir, but peak bloom isn't expected until mid-March. The trail is open Wednesdays through Sundays; entry fees are $10 to park and $3/person to hike.

Since we live in a selfie-taking world, it's worth noting that visitors should avoid wandering off the designated walking trails at any of the above sites. While it might be tempting to lay down in the flowers or nab that perfectly pensive pose, you'd only be trampling the flowers and worsening the conditions for any future super blooms. Now go forth and make Mother Nature proud.


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