Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

Everything to Know for the 2023 California Super Bloom

Every few years, typically between early March and late June, California’s pretty poppies and ethereal desert lilies sprout in unison from once-chapped ground that transforms into a habitable home for dormant seeds. This creates the phenomenon known as a California super bloom.

The region produced some of its most magnificent wildflower season spectacles in 2016, 2017, and 2019—and now, thanks to a very wet fall and winter, California public land managers are forecasting “good” to “better-than-average” wildflower blooms in spring 2023 as well. We’re preparing for a springtime wildflower explosion across the Golden States—here’s everything you need to know.

A guide to the 2023 California super bloom

  1. What is a super bloom?
  2. When to see California wildflowers
  3. Tips for visiting a super bloom
  4. Where to see wildflowers in Southern California
  5. Where to see wildflowers in Northern California
  6. Trip report: Get inspired by the 2019 super bloom
  7. More ways to take a wildflower camping trip

What is a super bloom?

A super bloom is a rare and well-timed act of nature that causes short bouts of wildflower blooms all at once in a particular area. “These rare and unpredictable wildflower blooms occur when high precipitation levels in natural landscape areas are combined with a years-long drought,” according to California State Parks. Drought conditions eliminate grass and weeds that typically take over the fields, making way for blooms to take their place instead.

“Seeds stored in the desert sands for 5, 10, or even 30 years respond to wetter-than-average conditions, creating carpets of yellow, white and purple flowers,” says Cameron Barrows, associate research ecologist at the University of California, Riverside. “The cause is a combination of the timing and amount of rain. The conditions are just right across much of California and the West.”

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Ezequiel Gonzalez

When to see the California super bloom 2023

Wildflowers are hard to predict and fleeting, but these dates are a good indicator of when in spring to keep an eye out in each California region.

  • Central California Coast: Mid-March to mid-April
  • Los Angeles and San Diego: Mid-March to early April
  • The Sierra Foothills: Mid-March through April
  • The Bay Area: Late April to mid-June
  • The Eastern Sierra: Late June through July

Tips for visiting a wildflower super bloom

Once the brown-eyed primrose, little gold poppies, and desert sunflowers start blooming and reach their peak—typically between April and May, pending altitude and climate changes—you’re going to want to catch the surreal season. Be sure to #LeaveItBetter and consider these tips to make sure your California super bloom trip is as stress-free as it should be.

1. Don’t hit snooze: Book your campsite ASAP

Here’s the thing about wildflowers: they’re gorgeous. Here’s the thing about crowds: they’re not. California wildflower blooms are known to receive an enormous amount of attention and attract over a million visitors to natural areas such as Lake Elsinore, the Antelope Valley Poppy ReserveDeath Valley National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Day trips from the cities (usually San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego) can be tiring undertakings and the best photos are taken at sunset or sunrise, so we recommend an overnight stay to see the sprawling blankets of flowers. Book your campsite in advance so you can get some super sleep, too. For private and last-minute options, choose a Hipcamp stay like the Lancaster Circus Tent on the edge of the Antelope Valley poppy fields or Cuyama Badlands near Carrizo Plain. Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is a great public spot in Anza-Borrego State Park if you’re able to snag a site.

When you’re one of the first visitors of the day at a spot like Anza-Borrego, you’ll be able to roll through the dusty, one-lane roads with no problem before big crowds arrive from the town of Borrego Springs by noon. Here, head off of Henderson Road to spot pockets of blooms such as the sun yellow Parish’s poppy (Eschscholzia parishii), the tall purple Arizona lupine (Lupinus arizonicus), and the soft dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides). Visiting in the morning also means more flowers to see—some species close up in the afternoon swelter.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Miranda Meyers

2. Tread lightly and leave it better

It might seem all too irresistible to venture off designated trails and make your own beeline into the hillside poppy fields, but you’d be doing more harm than good.

No one wants to see flowers trampled or ripped up, and that’s unfortunately what happens when people head off-trail to sit for photo ops among the blooms. With increased numbers of visitors swarming, super blooms can put a strain on rural areas with limited facilities. In fact, for 2023, Lake Elsinore has banned all visitors and parking at its popular Walker Canyon for the duration of the wildflower season due to the extreme crowds the area saw in 2019.

It’s of the utmost importance that hikers only go to areas open to visitors and stay on trail. Be mindful of locals and the natural habitat where you’re spending time. We strongly recommend adhering to Leave No Trace and Leave it Better principles so that both you and Mother Nature both stay safe and cared for.

3. Take a deep breath in

Flowers aren’t just pretty—they’re good for you, too. “Common sense tells us that flowers make us happy,” says Jeannette Haviland-Jones, a professor emerita of psychology at Rutgers University who has studied the impact of blooms on people. “Now, science shows that not only do flowers make us happier than we know, they have strong positive effects on our emotional well-being.”

Also, just getting outside our fluorescent-lit dwellings and hitting the trails can do wonders for your health. A brisk walk through the flower fields can help increase your white blood cell count, decrease cortisol levels, and aid in balancing the brain’s bevy of enzymatic function. What’s not to like about that?

Another lovely part of a super bloom is taking in the soft scent that emits from flowers like California poppies, desert dandelions, and sand verbena (Abronia villosa), which is made up of tiny purple flower clusters. Hikers should take a moment to lounge around in the sand on the side of the road—perhaps near a creek—to be calmed by the cool ambrosial breeze. Wherever you end up flower chasing, treat yourself to an isolated moment to find uncovered beauty.

Photo by Ezekiel Gonzalez

4. Stay flexible

With the huge influx of outdoor enthusiasts seen in areas with spring wildflowers, GPS and cell connections are typically pretty bad. Park rangers have suggested going analog during such times, embracing old-fashioned paper maps, compasses, and maybe even walkie talkies to get around and stay in touch with your group.

Traffic will undoubtedly be heavier than usual as well, and parking lots tend to hit capacity in record time. To get around this, give yourself time to make arrangements, stay flexible, and maybe even use your wildflower odyssey as an excuse to digitally disconnect.

Speaking of flexibility, wildflower hunters will need to come to terms with the fact that closures are common, and blooms can be gone in a flash.

Photo by Cheyenne Knowles at Shark Fin Cove

5. Know where to find the latest info

Stay current on floral happenings with a variety of wildflower report resources, as seen below. And although social media influencers have been controversial during recent super blooms, Instagram can be helpful for up-to-date community reports on where to find flowers.

Photo by Ezequiel Gonzalez

6. Remember the essentials

With any trip to the desert, bring plenty of water and your biggest hat. Expect little to no cell phone coverage but lots of people!

And you likely don’t need reminding, but you’ll want to pack your camera to capture the phenomenon. Be sure to share a few photos or video shots of your own—if you stay at a Hipcamp during wildflower season, tag us @hipcamp, and we just might give you a shoutout.

Best places in Southern California to see the 2023 super bloom

Photo by Mike Ostrovsky

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve (mid-March to mid-April)

Antelope Valley lies an hour and a half from Los Angeles, on the west side of Lancaster, and is one of the best spots to ensure you’ll catch at least a few blooms. In 2023, we anticipate a better-than-average bloom, with the orange poppies expected to cover the reserve’s rolling Mojave Desert hills from mid-March through mid-April.

For the latest info, check the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve Bloom Status Update.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (late February to early March)

A two-hour drive from San Diego, Anza-Borrego typically reports large amounts of wildflowers thanks to its higher elevations above the desert basin. Coyote Canyon and Henderson Canyon Road are among the most colorful spots this year.

Photo by Madison Kotack

Joshua Tree National Park (March and April)

This California desert hot spot near Palm Springs is home to hundreds of wildflower species and desert blooms, usually found on the east side of the park.

For the latest info, check in on the iNaturalist Joshua Tree National Park Wildflower Watch.

Photo by Ryan and Bernadette Morgan

Death Valley National Park (mid-February to early April)

On the desert floor, Death Valley’s lower elevations lend themselves to early wildflower sightings, with blooms taking place from mid-February until early April. The show should be above average in 2023—look out for the mariposa lily, desert paintbrush, and monkey flowers along Badwater Road.

For the latest info, see the Death Valley National Park Wildflower Update.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (March and April)

This region offers a variety of areas to spot lupines, bush sunflowers, and purple nightshade. Standout trails can be found in the recreation area’s Malibu Creek State Park, Point Mugu State Park, and Topanga State Park, where you’ll see flowers set against coastal views. Closer to the water, Point Dume State Beach has blanketed swaths as well.

Find more updates at Santa Monica Mountains: What’s Blooming.

Photo by Bob Wick, courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Carrizo Plain National Monument (mid-March to mid-April)

View nature’s fireworks in Central California’s San Luis Obispo County, where hillside daisy and phacelia blooms tend to migrate into the Central Valley. The Blue Sky Center is a great overnight stay, just about an hour away.

Photo by Larry Costales

CLOSED: Lake Elsinore and the Walker Canyon Trail (late February to April)

This area rose to floral fame with its stellar poppy field super bloom in 2019. But now, to combat excessive crowds and habitat loss, Lake Elsinore has closed the Walker Canyon Trail and wildflower fields for the 2023 season. The city is implementing a zero tolerance policy for trespassing.

You can instead catch the Walker Canyon poppy bloom on the city’s live cam, or hit Chino Hills State Park, a nearby alternative sprouting lupine and poppies.

Best places in Northern California to see the 2023 super bloom

Photo by Anthonysthwd

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve (March to early May)

Just under two hours from Sacramento, this reserve features great hiking opportunities and a few small waterfalls. Hit Lake Oroville for overnight glamping options.

Photo by Lisse Lundin

Mt. Tamalpais State Park (April and early May)

Mt. Tam rarely experiences super blooms due to its climate and geography, but many flowers do pop up on the Coast View Trail on occasion, including the exquisite calypso orchid. Make a weekend of it outside San Francisco—try to secure a cabin by the sea at the Steep Ravine Cabins and Campground. Otherwise, nearby China Camp State Park is another solid option.

Photo by Beth Young

Folsom Lake (April and early May)

This NorCal lake in the Sierra foothills saw the spotlight in 2021 when lupine flowers exploded across areas usually under water. This was a rare sight, but we’ve got our eyes peeled for more lupine appearances.

Mount Diablo State Park (February to April)

This East Bay gem sits at 3,849 feet with hundreds of wildflower species. Come spring 2023, the park’s dozens of hiking trails are expecting better-than-average blooms of hill stars, wallflowers, poppies, monkey flowers, and more. Try the Secret Valley Loop or Camel Rock for good chances at flower spotting.

Trip report: Get inspired by the 2019 super bloom

Looking for inspo in an off-year? Witness the flower power of the 2019 California super bloom with this trip report from Hipcamp Photographer Ezekiel Gonzalez. Tour the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, then explore The Joshua Tree Bom Hipcamp for a taste of what you could spot on your next wildflower camping trip.

Location: Joshua Tree National Park
Hipcamp: The Joshua Tree Bom, CA

More ways to take a wildflower camping trip

Check out these articles for additional springtime feelings.

Miles W. Griffis is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist with beats in the nature, science, and LGBTQ+ culture. His work has appeared in High Country News, The New York Times, Outside, Vogue, Nautilus, Adventure Journal, Backpacker, The Advocate, and many others. Outside of his writing, Miles has worked as a backcountry guide in Colorado, Canada, and Australia. He’s also volunteered as a wildland firefighter.

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