Socal Daytrips: Spring Blooms in Southern California

After one of the coldest and wettest winters I’ve experienced since moving to Southern California in 2010, we have been rewarded with magnificent spring wildflower blooms.  Some are calling this a “Superbloom” year, and while I’m not sure what technically qualifies as a superbloom versus a very good bloom, I can personally attest that the flower scene is amazing and breathtakingly beautiful. If you’re nearby, or in the area, I highly recommending making a trip to enjoy the wildflowers!

While wildflowers are starting to show up throughout the area with patches here and there, there are some main areas that are recommended for wildflower viewing. Timing is important, as there are different peak times for various locations due to slightly different flower species and precipitation received.

I did my research before deciding where and when to visit, and have referenced some of the blogs and websites that I found most helpful below.  So far this year (2019), we have been to two areas – Lake Elsinore (riverside county) and Anza-Borrego State Park (San Diego County). We have plans to visit a couple more places this spring to see different blooms, and as we continue to explore, I will try to update this post with more information.  The following are places that we’ve visited recently, as a family, and have really enjoyed.

Walker Canyon Trail, Lake Elsinore

This has become the spot to see the “2019 superbloom” in Southern California. We visited here just as the poppies were starting to bloom in late February, and at that time, we were among the few early visitors. There was plenty of parking along Walker Canyon Road, and most people on the trail appeared to be locals and hikers.

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The bloom has definitely spread and peaked since then. From what I have seen on social media and heard from friends who have recently visited, the hills are now completely covered with poppies and other wildflowers.  Last weekend (3/9/19), as we drove through Riverside on our way south to Anza-Borrego, we could see the hills literally blanketed in orange washes of poppies. Word about the Walker Canyon poppies has spread on Instagram, Facebook and the news, and reportedly there is significant traffic and crowds at all times, (mid March), but worse on the weekends. *Scroll down to read 3/23 update!

The following photos are from 2/23/19

Updated on 3/23/19 – Important update regarding Walker Canyon access, especially on weekends.

As of 3/23/19, access Walker Canyon is now limited due to the unmanageable crowd volume and traffic on 3/16-17 weekend. Please check the news for the latest update.  The information available on abc7 news 3/23/19 notes that:  “No parking will be available on Walker Canyon or Lake Street, and the only way to access Walker Canyon on weekends will be via shuttle service. Visitors will have to pay $10 for the shuttle service, except for children younger than three. Shuttle service will start at 6:30 a.m. Saturday and last through Sunday.  Road closures affect parts of Lake Street and Nichols Road. Lake Street freeway exits on Interstate 15 near the super bloom will be closed in both directions, and designated lots will be available for parking near the Nichols Street exit.”  If congestion becomes overwhelming, Walker Canyon could be closed again.

I’m not sure how it is on the weekdays, but I imagine a little better if you are able to make the trip.  I was fortunate to make it back to view  “peak bloom” on Friday – 3/15 with a friend, before the poppygeddon occurred.  We went on a Friday, leaving Orange County around noon.  I had already read about the massive crowds visiting Walker Canyon, so we were both mentally prepared for traffic, and potentially difficulty parking.  We figured, we love to chat and spend time together, as it’s rare to find this type of time for connection as busy working moms, so we took it easy and passed the time in the car with conversation. In the end, to our pleasant surprise, we were lucky.  We only experienced a little bit of traffic, and then found a parking spot towards the far end of the trail.  We walked, staying on the trail the entire time, and enjoyed the magnificent views.  After hiking and taking photos for about 2 hours from the established wide dirt trail, we got back into our car and headed home, again making pretty good time (about 1h 15 min for a 40 min without traffic drive). I know it will likely raise some eyebrows, but I wanted to share the following photo, because there has been a lot of negativity surrounding the superbloom in Lake Elsinore.  I understand that some people have good intentions and are trying to protect the poppies by “calling out” people out on social media.  I share the desire to ensure that the flowers aren’t being trampled or picked, and soil isn’t becoming compacted which would prevent future poppies from growing there.  However, there has been some downright mean bullying occurring on social media and incorrect assumptions made.  During my 3/15 visit, I was happy to observe that the overwhelming majority of visitors were mindful and appreciative of the blooms, and stayed on the trail.  There were police managing the parking and traffic situation, as well as rangers monitoring the trail on trucks to help ensure that people stayed on trail.  I was surprised to see that at both ends of the trail, there appeared to be a designated space (no ropes, no signs, compared to other areas all along the path, police/ranger not stopping people in this area though present and passing by) that was open to the public to walk through. These “man made paths” may have been formed out of negligence and vanity. But the reality is that they are there now.  And to me, it’s better that people stay in these relatively small designated spots to get their “I’m sitting in flowers” photo (which can be achieved by having the subject sitting in dirt surrounded by flowers, and the photographer crouching down and taking a photo with foreground of taller flowers).  

I’m not sure how much longer this bloom in Lake Elsinore will last, but it is magnificent, and in my opinion, worth traffic and a $10 shuttle fee. If you do go, please be mindful of the Wildflower Viewing Etiquette tips I share below.

Anza-Borrego State Park and surroundings

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There are several areas in and around Anza Borrego State Park where you can see some beautiful wildflowers as well.  These flowers are completely different varietals than what we saw in Lake Elsinore, or what we see in Orange County.  What I found fascinating is how these flowers literally seemed to grow out of the sand!  There is a great guide and maps to Anza Borrego Wildflower areas which I’ve provided the link to below. We used these maps to find the wildflower areas. One of our favorite areas (3/9 weekend) was around mile marker 31 on California County Road S-22.

The following photos are from 3/9-10/2019

 

 

Something else that was really cool to witness while we were in Anza-Borrego was the migration of the Painted Lady butterflies.  There were so many flying through the area, it was so beautiful.  What’s interesting is that a few days later, we’re seeing them in Orange County. Apparently they are continuing to make their way up north to the Pacific Northwest!

The locals describe this year at Anza Borrego State Park as a good bloom, but not a “super bloom”.   Whatever we call this bloom, our family all agreed it was beautiful, and worth the road trip.  Although there are plenty of flowers to see and enjoy now, the bloom may last for a few more weeks as different areas come into peak.  I definitely recommend checking the current wildflower status prior to heading out there, however, as I’ve read that once the caterpillars arrive, they could decimate the flowers quickly within a few days.

Anza-Borrego wildflowers can be visited as a day trip from Orange County. Since we were travelling as a group with little kids and grandparents, I booked us a room at the Borrego Springs Resort, so that we could enjoy the wildflowers and state park at a more relaxed pace. I also booked us a Wildflowers jeep tour with California Overland Desert Excursions. This brought us to unique locations we could not have otherwise visited in our minivan. Our guide brought us to some incredibly beautiful spots, and pointed out so many different types of flowers that we would have missed on our own.  He also brought us to an inspiring vista point to view the badlands. We highly recommend this tour while you are visiting Anza-Borrego!

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Wildflower Viewing Etiquette:

  • Don’t pick flowers, take only pictures
  • Don’t sit, stand or lay in the wildflowers.
  • Check rules about bringing dogs. Many places require dogs be on leash and stay on designated paths.
  • Check rules about drones. They are not allowed at Anza-Borrego state park
  • Drive carefully, cautiously. Park in designated areas.
  • Leave no trace.

Helpful links:

  • Theodore Payne Foundation weekly wildflower report : Up to date information about the wildflower status in Southern California
  • Borrego Blooms : Up to date information about wildflower bloom in Anza-Borrego State Park and surrounding area. Wonderful resource with helpful flower maps.  I recommend printing these or taking a screenshot before you get to the park, because once there- reception is very spotty and you might not be able to pull up the map.
  • There is also a Anza-Borrego State Park Wildflower hotline you can call : (760) 767-4684
  • Best places to see Wildflowers in Southern California – Blog by NoManBefore: A comprehensive list of places to see wildflowers, including recommended area hikes.
  • Best wildflower resources for Southern California – Blog by Modern Hiker:  A comprehensive list of resources including some noted above, plus some.
  • California Overland Desert Excursions – link for tours.  We chose the 2.5 hour wildflower tour.
  • Hotel we stayed at: Borrego Springs Resort :  Rooms were comfortable and spacious. Family Friendly

I hope this guide is helpful!  Please note that all opinions are our own. This post is not sponsored.

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I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, doctor, adventure enthusiast, food lover, and photographer. I spend a lot of time researching fun things for my family to do, explore and eat - so I created this space to share some information that might be helpful to others.

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