In desert valleys, grassland prairies, and alpine meadows, wildflowers are the color-saturated harbingers of spring-nature's guarantee that the days are getting longer and, eventually, warmer. And like a modern-day rite of spring, we celebrate wildflower festivals in small towns and national parks across the US. Here are 10 recommendations for seeing wildflowers in all their glory, in all their different habitats. Just remember to look and not touch-picking flowers from national parks is illegal, after all.
Photo Credit: Marc Turcan/Shutterstock
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
Where: The Mojave Desert, California
The California poppy is found the length and breadth of the Golden State, but one of the best places to catch them in abundance is the 1,780-acre Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, in northern Los Angeles County. During prime viewing time (typically in April), set out on eight miles of trails that wind through the reserve to see swaths of orange blanketing the rolling hillsides. Each April, the nearby town of Lancaster hosts the California Poppy Festival, with four stages of music and performances, and kids' activities that include camel rides.
Insider Tip: A number of factors-rain, drought, freezes, etc.-will affect the timing and duration of wildflower blooms. The reserve's website posts a "bloom status" from mid-February through mid-May, so visitors can plan their trips accordingly.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve Guide
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The mountains and valleys around Crested Butte, officially honored as the "Wildflower Capital of Colorado," are a jumble of color in late spring and summer as the blooms progress: blue columbines, red Indian paintbrushes, yellow sunflowers, purple delphiniums, and dark-blue lupines, among many others. Almost any trail in the nearby National Forest land will lead to magnificent wildflower views, including the route leading from Crested Butte to Gothic, eight miles north. And in early July, Crested Butte hosts a weeklong wildflower festival.
Insider Tip: Stop at the Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce to get the latest info on the best hikes to see wildflowers at any given time.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Crested Butte Guide
Photo Credit: Betty Shelton/Shutterstock
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Where: North Carolina, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to more than 1,500 varieties of flowering plants, more than any other national park in North America-earning it the nickname "Wildflower National Park." At lower elevations, spring flowers (usually mid- to late-April) include lady slipper orchids, crested dwarf irises, bleeding hearts, and violets. Summer brings cardinal flowers, black-eyed Susans, bee-balms, Turk's cap lilies, and many more. The five-day Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in mid-April includes guided walks, lectures, and demonstrations.
Insider Tip: The Great Smoky Mountains Association updates its website regularly, spring through fall, with very specific details on which wildflowers can be found on various trails throughout the park.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide