In Orange County, wildflowers tend to bloom starting in March.
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 2023 wildflower bloom may be the best we’ve had since 2017! We had a lot of rain in January and we’re due for more in February.
The media likes to blow wildflower bloom potential up into “SUPERBLOOM” status. Really? I get excited when I see ONE wildflower. It doesn’t take much to get me excited about it.
Most of my photos in this post are from the impressive spring of 2017 when I was actively out exploring the wildflowers. But I’ve found little patches every year no matter what the rain situation happens to be.
Where to Find Wildflowers
You can find wildflowers all around in a good bloom year. 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 that same 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. Hint: Look for purple lupines off Jamboree on the way to Irvine Regional Park. Those lupines are a good indicator to me about when things are starting to bloom and what the season might look like!
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. Here are the best 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)
- Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflower Reports (reviewed daily)
- DesertUSA Wildflower Reports (online photos of local spots with wildflowers by date showing poppies popping up already!)
- California Department of Parks and Recreation has a dedicated 2023 Spring Flower Bloom page with news that they are: “are cautiously optimistic in expecting a ‘good’ to ‘better than average’ wildflower bloom this late winter and spring seasons.”
- In 2017, Josh from CaliforniaThroughMyLens.com posted about Where to See Wildflowers in Chino Hills State Park which is listed on many of the wildflower hotline sites. I’m hopeful the flowers look like this for 2023.
- Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve (website lists their site-specific wildflower hotline) and it even has a “PoppyCam” Live Feed.
- Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet (website has map of wildflower trail plus a great pdf for identifying wildflowers) will hopefully open for walking the trails once the flowers get in bloom. They say: “With a little luck and a lot of rainfall, 2023 could be a super bloom year!”
- Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore has been a popular spot in the past. As of a February 7th, 2023 press briefing — Walker Canyon is CLOSED. They are announcing that there will be NO super bloom this year because the last time that happened there had been 20 inches of rain in the season.
- Access to Lake Elsinore / Walker Canyon wildflower bloom is usually limited due to impacts on the community (traffic and those people going off trail and not obeying rules). If you saw photos of friends in the poppies from 2017, it was probably near Lake Elsinore off the I-15 at Lake but that offramp was CLOSED in 2019 on weekends or when there was congestion.
- This is info directly from the 2023 press release:
- “Walker canyon trail CLOSED to all visitors.”
- “Parking in and around Walker Canyon are CLOSED.”
- “Walker Canyon Road access at Lake Street is CLOSED.”
- “CHP requests that motorists keep the freeway shoulders open. The freeway shoulders are for emergency situations only.“
- “RSO will be citing and towing vehicles parked illegally.”
Felicia at EverydayAdventureFam.com wrote some amazingly detailed posts with beautiful photos of what a superbloom of wildflowers CAN look like from 2019. You can read up on her trips and tips for bringing the kids to see the wildflowers at Spring Blooms in Southern California (March 2019) and Carrizo Plains and Antelope Valley (April 2019).
Where are the Best Places to See Wildflowers?
Keep these tips in mind whenever you get outdoors.
First of all, respect the trail rules and obey the signs when trails are closed after it rains.
Here is a great 2019 article from The Press-Enterprise on Wildflower Etiquette: Stay on the trails, don’t stop traffic. It says: “No matter how tempting it is to venture into the fields for a selfie, officials plead for people to stay on marked paths to avoid causing damage. Take pictures of the wildflowers. Just don’t take pictures in the wildflowers!”
Then 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 may not be 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)
- Trail map
- Aliso and Wood Canyons Wildflower Hike (the trail from Canyon View Park in Aliso Viejo). 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.
Caspers Wilderness Park near San Juan Capistrano
(Pictured: Coast Sunflower/California Encelia)
- Trail map
- Try the short interpretive trail outside the nature center
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park at Nix Nature Center
(Pictured: Buckwheat close-up)
- Trail Map
- Try Mary’s Trail right outside the Nix Nature Center
Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange
- Read about the park in my blog post about Santiago Oaks Regional Park
Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach
(Pictured: Flannel Bush)
ENC Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon
- Just opened again in 2022. The Environmental Nature Center took it over from Cal State Fullerton. Visit the Nature Center, then try the Chaparral Trail to see wildflowers and check the Oakwood Trail and Sensory Trail for blossoms. Warning: Parking can be VERY difficult up here in the canyon.
Barbara’s Lake in Laguna Canyon
- We hiked the Lake Trail to Barbara’s Lake in 2022 which was a particularly dry year, but we still saw plenty of tiny wildflowers.
Other Local Spots
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 – and I usually don’t recommend this spot for families because of the mountain lion risk here. So just be aware that it is a risk.
Bommer Canyon is open for self-guided access on designated trails especially during Wilderness Access Days (February 18, 2023) and another Wilderness Access Day in March (March 18, 2023). 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 usually happens early in April. The Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks 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
You know we’ve had wildfires that impacted large wilderness areas — many of which I toured in 2017 (like Santiago Regional Park and Irvine Regional Park). That’s why it’s especially important to stay on trails as these areas recover from the fires.
You can search Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks activity guide using the keyword “wildflower” – but many of the events you’ll find might already be full.
Admire the landmarks’ wildflower season through Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s virtual social media tour, which usually taking place sometime in March. Join the virtual wildflower fun by “liking” the Landmarks’ Facebook page (Facebook.com/irlandmarks), following on Twitter (@IRLandmarks), and following on Instagram (@OCMountainstoSea).
When out on the land and participating in activities, bring a camera and share wildflower photos on social media with #WhereTheWildflowersAre or whatever hashtag they are using for 2023.
My Personal Guide to Wildflowers
Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks has a FREE wildflower field guide available for viewing or download.
This is my personal version from trips out into the wilds of OC.
Schoolbells (also called Blue Dicks) with California Sagebrush in the background
Fiddlenecks which bloom in tell-tale curliques. I saw fiddlenecks in Feb 2020 outside the San Pasqual Battlefield State Park museum near the entrance to the San Diego Safari Park in Escondido. In 2022, there were huge fields of them near Wieder Regional Park in Huntington Beach and also along trails in Laguna Canyon.
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 where you can participate in a “mustard pull.”
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
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 2017 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. I have a post about how to spot poison oak, if you need it.
Traffic jams and parking in a safe spot. Every year, I hear 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 this post every year since.