Engulfed in a field of purple lupine on a steep slope in Los Padres National Forest, I marveled at the stunning landscapes of a springtime profusion of wildflowers sweeping across the rugged panoramic. There was one backcountry mountain face that stood out like no other, however. Ablaze in orange, yellow and purple, its entire face was a blanket of California poppies, bush lupine, blue dicks and goldfields.
I needed to be there and found the way along a year-round gurgling creek. At the base of the mountain, I left the cascading runnel, hiked northeast and ascended the steep single-track trail. At various elevations a plethora of blooms had sprung to life, grateful for those steady doses of winter rains, allowing for evenly distributed seeds germinating in the mountain-rich soil.
Central and Southern California are blessed with a multitude of varying habitats consisting of rugged coastlines, windswept islands, sweeping grasslands and chaparral-covered mountains. Come springtime there’s much to choose from in the way of wildflowers. There’s no time to waste when it comes to a prolific floral display. Its rebirth is fleeting, maybe lasting only a couple of weeks. Leave only footprints, take only pictures and enjoy nature’s colorful canvas.
Channel Islands National Park — Of the five islands making up this unique archipelago, try first the two smallest islands for a highly concentrated display of wildflowers. Santa Barbara and Anacapa islands can be easily hiked in a couple of hours, and because these islets are so small, wildflowers tend to be clustered together in natural bouquets of giant coreopsis, Indian paintbrush, phacelia, blue dicks and island liveforevers. In a great wildflower year, you can see from afar the yellow coreopsis blooms on the approach to Anacapa from the Island Packers boat. Also recommended are the Prisoners to Pelican Harbor hike on Santa Cruz Island, and the Lobo Canyon hike on Santa Rosa Island. On San Miguel Island, Nidever Canyon is an island botanical garden filled with island poppies and buckwheat. Atop the marine terrace is a dense stock of coreopsis on either side of the trail. Click here to contact Island Packers or call at 805.642.1393.
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge — This is a unique wildflower destination because over time the coastal dune flora has had to adapt to the harsh conditions of constant sand and wind. Beach morning glory is the first plant to colonize the dunes. Coreopsis can be discovered in the dune troughs as well as Indian paintbrush, yellow and purple sand verbena, wallflowers and silver lupine. The vegetation of the dunes is popular with the dune wildlife as every kind of animal track can be found scurrying around the dune flora. For guided wildflower walks in the dunes, call the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center in Guadalupe at 805.343.2455, or click here for more information.
Shell Creek Road — About 20 miles east of Atascadero, just off Highway 58, is one of those unexplainable natural wonders. It’s a mystery why some places are better than others for wildflowers, but Shell Creek Road is such a place. For about a half-mile to a mile along both sides of this beautiful country road are lush fields of wildflowers surrounding huge oak trees. You’ll find baby blue eyes, tidy tips, California poppies, purple lupine and owl’s clover among others. Just pull off on either side of the road and follow the foot paths through all the wildflowers.
Carrizo Plain National Monument — The plain needs at least 8 to 10 inches of rain from fall through winter for a decent wildflower season. There are lots of places to look for blooms across the plain on Soda Lake Road, the main roadway in the national monument. Begin with Simmler Road on the east side of Soda Lake. I’ve seen wildflowers so thick across the grasslands, that you couldn’t see the ground. On Selby Road go to Selby Rocks, a gritty cluster of lichen-covered sandstone boulders that are typically surrounded with California poppies, owl’s clover and stocks of golden aster. The rolling foothills beneath the Caliente Mountains are full of bush lupine and stands of curly cued filaree. Contact the Goodwin Education Center at 805.475.2131 for wildflower updates and other information about the Carrizo Plain. From December through May, the center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Click her for more information.
FYI – From March through May, the Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline begins its weekly reports of all the wildflower hotspots covering Central and Southern California. Each Friday, the hotline is updated for all the places listed above and including many more. Call 818.768.3533, or click here for more information.