Superblooms are the result of a rare botanical phenomenon that takes place in the deserts and throughout the West: an unusually high proportion of wildflowers, whose seeds have lain dormant in the soil, germinate and bloom at roughly the same time. The event involves a delicate balance of well-spaced rainfall, adequate warmth from the sun, cool nighttime temperatures and an absence of harsh, drying wind. Superblooms are typically associated with an especially wet fall and winter season. Large swaths of colorful flowers blanket hillsides and wild spaces, making the landscape downright magical.
Now is the time to hop in the car and get outside to witness the floral abundance near us. There are plenty of places to see local flowers, but here are a few spectacular spots, some quick day jaunts and a longer, extra-memorable road adventure for your spring-break planning purposes.
North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
An hour and a half outside of Sacramento, North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve’s Phantom Falls hike is a 4-mile workout that offers views of flower-carpeted meadows, waterfalls and basalt cliffs. Seek out unusual flowers such as meadowfoam, purple owl’s clover, goosefoot violet and buttercups, which merge into a riot of color each spring. You will need a daily lands pass prior to visiting and should bring water and a picnic; plan to pack out your trash.
South Yuba River State Park
PENN VALLEY, NORTH SAN JUAN
Take a quick day trip to see California poppies and narrow-leaved lupin in all their glory. Off Highway 20 near Grass Valley, South Yuba River State Park’s Buttermilk Bend Trail explodes in spring into an Instagrammer’s gold-and-purple dream. Take an easy docent-led walk with beautiful views of the river on Saturdays and Sundays (11 a.m.) through May 10. Be sure to carve out a little extra time to check out the covered bridge and barn built in the 1800s and the restored 1920s gas station.
LOOMIS, FOLSOM, EL DORADO HILLS
We are set to have a dazzling lupine-palooza in our own backyard this spring. As photographers and social media enthusiasts flock to the scene, please remember not to step on or crush the flowers (do no harm!); this kills the plants and destroys the habitat. Folsom Lake explodes in bloom in a number of locations near the water. One spot to bookmark is Sterling Pointe in Loomis, an equestrian staging area with plenty of free parking and easy walks down to the lake. From the trails, you can hike over the old stone bridge and have a picnic on sandy, driftwood-strewn beaches. Another spot: Folsom Point, where a drive up the hill and over (pay your $12 day fee at the kiosk) delivers you to several parking and picnic areas down by the lake. Within a few steps, you’re deep in purple lupine. Also nearby, at the intersection of Green Valley Road and Sophia Parkway near the junction of Folsom and El Dorado Hills, park on the street for free (near the ARCO station), cross Green Valley on foot and climb up the hillside on the trail that’s been blazed by others. It’s intense if you’re not a regular hiker, but you’re heading straight into blue skies and oak canopies. At the top will be expansive views of the lake—and plenty of wildflower fields.
Hear weekly reports of the bloom progress for Southern and Central California recorded by actor Joe Spano through May by calling (818) 768-1802, ext. 7.
HEADS UP, POPPY PICKERS
The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) became the state flower on March 2, 1903, and April 6 is officially designated as California Poppy Day. It is thought that perhaps the poppy was selected due to its bright orange color, which visually referenced the Gold Rush. The belief that it is illegal to pick a poppy is actually a myth. Generally speaking, there are no laws prohibiting the cutting of the state flower. It is illegal to damage plants that aren’t on your own property, though, so in the case of public trails and state park lands, leave the poppies be. Besides, they wilt quickly and are better left in the ground to populate our country roads and hillsides as the treasured symbol of California.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
A memorable floral road trip is to make your way down south (about a five-hour drive) to Carrizo Plain National Monument east of San Luis Obispo. This under-the-radar park boasts rugged beauty with rolling hills that are carpeted in candy-colored flowers each spring, with April and May the peak months to visit. Be sure to spend time gazing at the painted mountains near the entrance and walking the planks to the salt lake. You can camp in designated areas of the park, but to really up the fun ante, spend the night in a hot-pink, florally themed room at the iconic Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo before heading home to Sacramento. Combined with some wine tasting in the Edna Valley, where at least 27 wineries produce reds and whites (especially pinot noir and chardonnay), and dinner in downtown SLO, this would make an incredible girls’ getaway. Or a romantic weekend for two.
Lake Tahoe’s West Shore
At Lake Forest Beach on Tahoe’s west shore, lupine appears to walk on water. With the mountains in the background—they’re sure to be snow-capped well into fall, at least—and the blue-blue lake in the foreground, these alpine fi elds of lupine are simply stunning as they extend from land into water. This bloom tends to be short-lived and, depending on snowfall, happens in June or July. With this year’s mounds of snow, who knows? But a quick scan of social media should give you a good idea when to pack up the car and head for the lake. Last year, it was still going strong during July 4 weekend. Go at sunrise or sunset for an exceptionally gorgeous photo op.
Stay on paths—Trampling and crushing the plants damages them, sometimes permanently. Follow park rules and stay in designated areas.
Pay it forward—Protect our natural resources for future generations by donating your time and spend a day cleaning trash or rehabilitating protected spaces, or by planting native flowers.
No picking—Enjoy the beauty with your eyes and camera only.