Top Ten Wildflower-Viewing States

You’ve been patient all winter, and now finally you’ll be rewarded. Get outside and take in spring’s greatest gift: sweet, vibrant wildflowers from coast to coast. Here, our ten favorite spots.

There’s a special feeling that comes with the dawning of spring, a feeling of lightness, of new beginnings, of warmth and vibrancy. People replace their layers of polar fleece with shorts and T-shirts, just as the landscape sheds its monochromatic hue for stunningly colorful flowers from coast to coast. So, when balmy ousts nippy and the sweet smell of mowed grass fills the air, lace up your hiking shoes, grab a camera, and hit the trails for a trek through fields of wildflowers in every color of the rainbow.

Texas

10. Bluebonnets have become almost synonymous with Texas. And no wonder, they are native to Texas, they’re the state flower, and they put on quite a show during the Texas spring. The Hill Country blooms offer the best of Texas wildflower viewing. On a good year, the deep-blue bluebonnets wave in the breeze by the side of the road and over meadows and hills, but it’s not the only wildflower in attendance. Indian paintbrush, pink evening primrose, scarlet phlox, rain lilies, and blooming peach and redbud trees also color the landscape. To learn more about Texas wildflowers, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Dedicated to protecting and preserving North America’s wildflowers and other native plants, the center’s gardens and meadows are awash with color during wildflower season.

Maine

9. The northeast is known for its harsh winters, so when flowers start pushing through the snow, there’s cause for celebration. Maine’s Acadia National Park has plenty of color in the spring, but many of the flowers are not actually indigenous to the area. To find out which ones are, visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia in the Sieur de Monts Spring area of the park, where 300 native species have been identified and labeled. Then head off into the park to see the various posies growing wild. The wooded area of the park is the best place to find common native woodland flowers, such as wild lily-of-the-valley, goldthread, and starflower. In August and September, native asters and goldenrods are in bloom. Carriage roads that wind through the park, such as those between Eagle Lake and Witch Hole Pond, make for easy hikes with plenty of flower action along the way.

Are you traveling with the family? Or planning to hit the beach? Maybe you’re the active type looking for hiking, climbing, or paddling in the Acadia area. Whatever your pleasure, Away.com has Acadia National Park Travel Guides to suit all traveler types. Plus, check out more photos of Maine.

Arizona

8. The normally monochromatic deserts in the west turn into a riot of color when the temperature rises. Prickly cactus sprouts shocking pink blooms, and high desert prairies are filled with orange poppies and violet-blue lupin. When conditions are ideal, the profusion of desert wildflowers can be a spectacular sight.

The saguaro cactus grows naturally only in the Sonoran Desert, and there are about 1.6 million individual saguaro plants in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. Comprised of two districts, both near Tucson, there are scenic loop drives, with easy hiking trails along the way, making for both in-car and on-foot wildflower viewing. While there are plenty of wildflowers covering the ground between the various cactuses, the cactus flowers are definitely the stars. In the spring, hedgehog cactus sport large flashy magenta blooms, barrel cactus are topped with a flash of reddish-orange, and the long branches of the ocotillo are covered in bright red flowers. The park’s namesake produces Arizona’s state flower, a waxy white bloom that shows up on the arms of the saguaro in May.

Trillium covers the forest floor in Michigan

Michigan

7. Idlewild Barrens in the Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan offers the best display of savanna/barrens flora in the state. So it’s no surprise that from spring to early fall there is plenty of wildflower action for both the driving and hiking set. In and around the town of Idlewild is considered one of the best places in mid-Michigan for wildflower displays. Colorful posies, such as black-eyed Susan, woodland sunflower, Carolina rose, and yellow false foxglove, pop up in town and along the roads. Forest Service trails in the area offer a chance to get up close and personal with lupine, yellow coreopsis, wild bergamot, horsemint, and the wispy state-threatened prairie smoke. Also in the Huron-Manistee, near the town of St. Cloud, the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary has a self-guided walking tour trail through various habitats. Grab a guide at the trailhead and hit the 1.5-mile loop trail, which is particularly lovely in the spring when it’s surrounded by colorful blooms like pink lady’s slipper, jack-in-the-pulpit, and columbine.

Alaska

6. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest covers 16.9 million acres and accounts for 73 percent of the land along the Inside Passage. The Starrigavan Recreation Area, near the town of Sitka, turns into a riot of color in late spring and early summer. A boardwalk through an estuary passes by colorful displays of flowers, including yellow paintbrush, lacy white yarrow, wild geranium, and buttercup. The connecting Forest and Muskey Trail has a boardwalk through the muskegs (bogs), where bog orchids, pond lilies, shooting star, and sundew pop up in wildflower season. For a more ambitious hike, the Harbor Mountain Recreation Area has a trail that climbs 300 feet to a large herbaceous meadow. Besides providing sweeping views of the mountains and the sea, the meadows are covered in beautiful large-leaf gentian, chocolate lily, western columbine, and Sitka valerian.

Wyoming

5. Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming is beautiful any time of year, but the color really torques up when wildflowers appear on the scene. Driving through the Bighorn Mountains along the Cloud Peak Skyway (Highway 16) in June and July offers spectacular wildflower displays in the open alpine meadows along this 45-mile stretch of road, with plenty of pullouts and turnouts along the way. Burgess Junction off Highway 14 is another primo wildflower-spotting location in the Bighorn National Forest. Hot pink shooting stars, lupines, larkspurs, and scarlet paintbrushes, the state flower, are just a small sample of the wildflower species in the area. The active set will want to stop at the Burgess Junction Visitor Center for information about hikes in the area. Plus, nearby Ten Sleep, Wyoming, is a famous rock-climbing hotspot.

Washington

4. Washington’s Olympic National Park’s various ecosystems make for an impressive number of wildflower species. The park’s temperate Quinault Rain Forest sports wildflowers unique to its particular ecosystems, such as salmonberry, skunk cabbage, trillium, and devil’s club. A half-mile interpretive nature trail makes for easy viewing for the whole family. For a more ambitious hike and a look at alpine blooms, consider the Mount Ellinor Trail. The meadows are cloaked in color, and the mountain slopes offer stunning panoramic views of Puget Sound. Expect to see the tiny Piper’s bellflower, unique to the Olympic Mountains, showy pink Pacific rhododendrons, and the wonderfully named alpine pussytoes. Experienced hikers may opt to climb to the summit, but day hikers will probably want to turn around at the 2.5-mile point, where the forest opens into an alpine meadow.

North Carolina

3. You know spring has sprung in the southern United States when the dogwoods and redbuds flower and azalea and rhododendron bushes burst with clusters of brilliantly hued flowers. Though you can spot wildflowers out of the window of your car, the best way to see the festival of floral color along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway is to take to the trails. Whether easy or ambitious, a hike through one of the beautiful areas of the parkway will guarantee an eyeful of colorful wildflowers. A popular and moderately easy hike to Linville Falls will have you surrounded by purple and pink rhododendrons. In the more lush parts of the 13-mile Tanawha Trail, you’ll walk through carpets of tiny wildflowers, while the rockier outcroppings offer killer views and bushes of beautiful pastel-colored azaleas.

Colorado

2. Designated as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado by the State Legislature, Crested Butte is clearly the place to go when buds begin to pop. This mountain town, surrounded by the Elk Mountains and the Gunnison National Forest, may be ski-central in the winter, but all of that moisture turns the landscape positively technicolor once the snow melts. In early June yellow glacier lilies, purple larkspur, and white candytuft cover the landscape, while, as summer progresses, blue lupine, monkshood, mules ears, and columbine appear. Wildflower spotting in this neck of the woods is a no-brainer and can be done from the seat of the car along the West Elk Scenic Byway or on foot on trails through the mountains. For an all-out week-long wildflower celebration, head for the annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival in early July.

California

1. California’s Joshua Tree National Park has interesting rock formations and plenty of variety where wildflowers are concerned. The Joshua trees produce large clustered cream-colored blooms as early as late February. Starting in March the lower elevations are covered in wildflowers, including desert dandelion, purple verbena, dainty white forget-me-nots, and desert lavender, but you’ll have to wait until April or May for the cactus to bloom. On a good year, the park’s Cholla Cactus Garden will be full of color when the hairy arms of the cactus sprout bright pink flowers.

The shimmering orange California poppy, the state flower, can be spotted along Southern California roadways and on hikes in the hills in the spring. To see them in profusion, head to the Antelope Valley in the Mojave Desert, where fields surrounding the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster become a sea of orange from mid-March to May.

Leave a Comment