In Orange County, wildflowers tend to bloom starting in March. My husband and I accidentally stumbled upon a whole bunch when we took an impromptu wildflower hike in Aliso and Woods Canyons in March of 2016. In general, expect to see wildflower blooms from March-May. Not all spots are kid-friendly because some require long car rides, super steep or remote trails, or desert locations.
The 2018 wildflower bloom isn’t going to be as impressive as 2017 because we haven’t had the rain to support the bloom. Last year around this time, we’d already had about 10 inches of rain (which is our yearly total). This year, we’ve only had about 2 inches.
Where to Find Wildflowers
You can find wildflowers all around in a good bloom year. But for 2018, you’ll have to look a little closer and not expect anything impressive. In mid-February 2017, we drove to San Diego and the poppies were already covering the hills around Camp Pendleton with swathes of their signature golden color. It looked like someone came along and painted the green hills with artful blankets of orange paint. I was lucky enough to attend a media tour of wildflowers last year and while I only spotted a few purple lupines on the trail — I saw whole hillsides filled with these flowers on the way to the tour just driving along Jamboree Road. This is what a bunch of California Poppies looks like from a distance.
Your best bet before heading out is to consult these websites for up-to-date info. For 2018, you’ll have to be very strategic and the pay off will probably NOT be big fields of flowers. Here are the sources for finding up-to-date information about wildflowers:
- Thomas Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline (popular phone hotline with PDF archive of each report that has photos and links)
- DesertUSA Wildflower Reports (online photos of local spots with wildflowers by date)
- Josh from CaliforniaThroughMyLens.com post about Where to See Wildflowers in Chino Hills State Park which is listed on many of the wildflower hotline sites.
- Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve (website lists their site-specific wildflower hotline)
- Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet (website has map of wildflower trail plus a great pdf for identifying wildflowers)
- If you saw photos of friends in the poppies last year, it was probably near Lake Elsinore off the I-15 at Lake (safely exit freeway and park before viewing). No idea what this hillside looks like this year.
Places to See Orange County Wildflowers
Just think of the greenest, widest open spaces in Orange County . . .
- our regional & wilderness parks,
- our state parks,
- Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks,
- the canyons like Santiago, Silverado, Modjeska, Trabuco, etc.
- and the Santa Ana Mountains.
These trails are not blanketed with wildflowers, because most California wildflowers that I know are small and delicate. So take your time and keep your eyes out for some of the wildflowers I have listed in my guide below.
Aliso and Wood Canyon Wilderness Park near Laguna Beach and Aliso Viejo (Pictured: Coast Live Oak)
Caspers Wilderness Park near San Juan Capistrano (Pictured: Coast Sunflower/California Encelia)
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park at Nix Nature Center (Pictured: Buckwheat close-up)
Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange (Pictured: Lupine)
Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach (Pictured: Flannel Bush)
Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon (Pictured: Yucca)
- Trail Map
- Visit the Nature Center, then try the Chaparral Trail to see wildflowers and check the Oakwood Trail and Sensory Trail for blossoms
A few more options:
Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is a great spot during big bloom years! Visit the park from seven days a week from 7 a.m. to sunset for wonderful wildflower views. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Bommer Canyon is open for self-guided access on designated trails especially during Wilderness Access Days (March 17th, 2018). Sticky Monkeyflower and Popcorn Flower have been known to sprout here.
Buck Gully Reserve in Newport Beach is open daily from dawn to dusk. Keep an eye out for coast sunflower in bloom along the trails, and travel at your own pace.
Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve Wilderness Access Day on Saturday, April 7th grants public access (for self-guided hikes) to this wilderness area for free, but requires pre-registration. This is a great activity for families with teens as the terrain is a little more challenging for young children.
Guided Wildflower Hikes in Orange County
There are not many options this year, because the bloom is not as impressive as last year. Plus, we had wildfires that impacted large wilderness areas — many of which I toured last year (like Santiago Regional Park and Irvine Regional Park). That’s why it’s especially important to stay on trails this year as these areas recover from the fires.
Wildflower Hikes in Baker Canyon on Sun, March 18 and Sun, April 15th are a great way to discover the wildflower blooms in Orange County! Naturalists 15 and over can enjoy this interpretive hike through Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.
My Personal Guide to Wildflowers
Schoolbells (also called Blue Dicks) with California Sagebrush in the background
Fiddlenecks which bloom in tell-tale curliques
Arroyo Lupine, also grow in larger bunches
Catalina Mariposa Lily stands out white amongst yellow Fiddlenecks and purple Schoolbells (a rare sight and the first time I’ve seen one)
Johnny Jump-Ups are related to violets
White Lupine and friend
California Everlasting smells like maple syrup!
Deerweed and its delicate blossoms the color of sunset
Yucca stalk from far away and close-up
This Is NOT a Wildflower
This plant has to be filed under “Most Mistaken for a Native Wildflower.” It’s not! It’s a non-native invasive species of Mustard which chokes out and steals habitat from the native plants in my guide above. Why does that matter? Because local wildlife needs access to native plants to survive and thrive. If you ever want to volunteer to be a steward for our lands and lend a hand pulling invasive weeds, then Irvine Ranch Conservancy has volunteer opportunities.
- Rattlesnakes. My first time on the trail with rattlesnakes was wildflower watching at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. We took the small interpretive loop trail by the nature center and I was dodging baby rattlesnakes the whole way. Our ranger and guide on the media tour illustrated how the rattlesnakes hang out in the vegetation along the edge of the trail. So it’s VERY important to stay on a marked trail. Never put your feet down or sit somewhere you can’t see the ground. Be very aware on the trail.
- Don’t pick the wildflowers or go off trail. First of all, it’s usually illegal in protected areas and picking the flowers means the next family who comes along sees less of them. Even one person walking on the flowers can greatly impact the blooms. Take plenty of photos, if you want, just leave the real thing in place for the next visitors to enjoy.
- Watch out for poison oak. I’ve noticed that at the same time spring flowers are blooming, the poison oak is starting to leaf. But not all of it! Some of those bare sticks are also poison oak and they still pack a punch if you rub up against them. So, again, stay on the trail and try not to touch the plants.
- Traffic jams and parking in a safe spot. I’m hearing tales of crazy traffic jams out in the middle of the desert that feel like rush hour L.A. traffic. If you decide to head out there, pack your patience and always keep your safety in mind.
- Don’t go out on the trails during or after it rains. Many trails close for rain. Please respect the closures to prevent damage to the trails.
Remember! There are wildflowers all around us in Orange County. No need to travel miles away unless you are up for an adventure. Just become wildflower sleuths and be alert to blooms along the trail.
Disclosure: My friends at OCParks.com invited me for a media tour in 2017 and provided me with some research information. I’ve independently updated the post for 2018.