Travel

Where to See the Most Spectacular Wildflowers Across the U.S.

From California to Montana, from spring to fall.

Dean Fikar/Moment/Getty Images
Dean Fikar/Moment/Getty Images
Dean Fikar/Moment/Getty Images

We may have gotten a taste of wildflower season from Taylor Swift’s floral extravaganza at the Grammys, but now that spring has sprung it’s time to get after the real thing. All across the country, colorful blooms are wriggling their way to the surface, transforming drab landscapes into technicolor dreamscapes to the delight of anthophiles everywhere (it means flower-lovers-we learned a new word and wanted to share).

Below,  a list of some of the best places to see wildflowers, from California to Montana, from spring to fall. Just show up with your camera, maybe a matching outfit, and don’t forget to check all the up-to-date restrictions. And please-PLEASE-stay on designated trails; this is one of nature’s most spectacular, and spectacularly delicate, displays. Trampling on blooms to get the ‘gram can cause serious damage for years to come.

sumikophoto/Shutterstock
sumikophoto/Shutterstock
sumikophoto/Shutterstock

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Best time to visit: February through April 
Run, don’t walk, to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, on the eastern side of San Diego County. Though officials do not expect an abundance of wildflowers this season, some blooms are happening, like, now. Patches of desert agave, cactus barrels, desert apricot, and purple dune verbena have been spotted, especially in shadier areas where the ground retains moisture longer.  A recent wet sprinkling means that come mid-April there may be more bursts of color.  Try hiking along the canyon trails and keep up to date with the park’s Wildflower Hotline: 760-767-4684. (And if you’re in the area anyway, nearby Salton Sea gives the opportunity to get a little desert weird.)

Partha Sarathi Laha/Shutterstock
Partha Sarathi Laha/Shutterstock
Partha Sarathi Laha/Shutterstock

Death Valley National Park, California 

Best time to visit: Mid-February to mid-July
The largest national park in the lower 48 is also the hottest, driest, and lowest. Which means it takes a confluence of circumstances to produce a decent wildflower bloom: an absence of drying winds, sufficient warmth from the sun, and deep-soaking, gentle rains spaced out over the winter months. But even if blankets of flowers aren’t in the cards, you may still spot daisy-like desert golds, golden evening primroses, desert dandelions, grape soda lupines, and desert sagebrushes. And if you’re extra lucky you’ll see the rare and endangered Eureka Dunes evening primrose, a bucket-list item for bloom-spotters worthy of bragging rights.

Calvin Hy/Shutterstock
Calvin Hy/Shutterstock
Calvin Hy/Shutterstock

Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve, California

Best time to visit: Mid-March to early May
Oft-Instagrammed Antelope Valley in northeast Los Angeles County is struggling a bit this year. It still looks dry and barren, and will need a few more douses of rainwater before sprouting. But maybe that’s a good thing: In the past, the fields of poppies, fiddlesticks, and forget-me-nots were such a sensation that visitors lost their shit and trampled wherever they pleased just to get the shot (someone even landed a helicopter in the preserve.) A trip this year will definitely be more subdued but maybe that just means you’ll appreciate what you see all the more. Nature is healing and all of that.

Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Anton Foltin/Shutterstock

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Best time to visit: Mid-March through April
The Mexican poppies have already started appearing in Arizona’s Picacho Peak State Park, an under-the-radar star when it comes to flower-spotting. Since prehistoric times travelers have been enjoying its bounty; the peak itself is part of a volcanic flow, and it holds a place in history as the site of the Battle of Picacho Pass, the largest Civil War clash to take place in Arizona. On superbloom years, its hills are ablaze in a sea of yellow, interspersed with gangly Saguaro cacti, bladderpods, chuparosa, globemallow, brittlebush, and various cacti species.

NicholasGeraldinePhotos/Shutterstock
NicholasGeraldinePhotos/Shutterstock
NicholasGeraldinePhotos/Shutterstock

Central and Southeastern Texas 

Best time to visit: End of March to mid-April 
Good news: Despite a crippling winter that set records and left millions without power, forecasters predict a strong bluebonnet showing in Texas this spring. A few cities compete for your attention: Ennis is apparently the Official Bluebonnet City Of Texas, while Chappell Hill holds the Official Blue Bonnet Festival of Texas this year on April 10-11. Not to be outdone, a couple hours away Burnet has a competing festival on the same weekend, and the tiny Brenham, near Chappell Hill, is part of the 80-mile-long Bluebonnet Trail (it’s also the home of Blue Bell Creamery-yes, you can visit). While you’re roaming the roads keep an eye out for non-bluebonnet fare, like trout lilies, buttercups, four-nerve daisy, violets, and Texas mountain laurel flowers.

Steve Boice/Shutterstock
Steve Boice/Shutterstock
Steve Boice/Shutterstock

Glacier National Park, Montana

Best time to visit:  June to mid-July 
Check your allergies before heading to Montana’s Glacier National Park. It’s home to over 1,000 species of wildflower, including beloved Glacier lilies that emerge as the snowfields melts, and bear grass (not a grass, but another member of the lily family used by Indigenous Americans for basket weaving and medicine). In the early summer, the park bursts with purple asters, spiky lupines, short-lived blanket flowers, and showy Lewis Monkeyflowers against red rock outcroppings. And bring those binoculars, you may be privy to your own mini-safari of bighorn sheep, mountain goats, large mule deer, and bears.

Brad McGinley Photography/Moment/Getty Images
Brad McGinley Photography/Moment/Getty Images
Brad McGinley Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Crested Butte, Colorado

Best time to visit: Late June through July
Beginning in late June, the Rocky Mountain town of Crested Butte earns its nickname as the wildflower capital of Colorado, with blooms like Mule’s Ear sunflower, the medicinal heartleaf arnica, and the state flower Blue Columbine stretching from the top of the peaks all the way down to the city of Gunnison. (Keep an eye out, too, for the amazingly-named Elephantella, Sky Pilot, and sneezeweed.) Swing through in early July for a weeklong wildflower festival with over 200 programs including hikes, art workshops and photography classes.

salilbhatt/Shutterstock
salilbhatt/Shutterstock
salilbhatt/Shutterstock

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah 

Best time to visit: July through August
Utah’s stunning Cedar Breaks Monument sits at over 10,000 feet, overlooking a half-mile red geologic amphitheater which, in July, transforms into a vibrant carpet of 260 wildflower species. They’re such a spectacle, they have their own festival. A few trails like Spectra Point and Ramparts Overlook  will get you close to the action around the rim, but the easier 2-mile trip around Alpine Pond gets you a less taxing overview. Be sure to download the app beforehand, which will help you identity 40 of the park’s most common wildflowers.

Takahashi Outdoors/Shutterstock
Takahashi Outdoors/Shutterstock
Takahashi Outdoors/Shutterstock

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Best time to visit: Mid-March through end of summer
It’s just 75 miles away from DC, but Shenandoah National Park is a world apart, with cascading waterfalls and 1,862 species of wildflowers. Wildflowers like the witchy-sounding bloodroot begin to poke their heads out in spring, along with purple and yellow violet, pink lady’s slippers, and wild geraniums. By May it’s time for pink azaleas; in June, white mountain laurels; and fashionably late milkweed and orange touch-me-nots emerge in summer. Basically show up any time and you’re covered. Oh yeah, and do the Skyline Drive.

Kelly Fuoss, U.S. Forest Service
Kelly Fuoss, U.S. Forest Service
Kelly Fuoss, U.S. Forest Service

Fort Pierre National Grassland, South Dakota

Best time to visit: Summer
Come summer the 116,000 grassy acres of Fort Pierre National Grassland-a setting of Dances with Wolves-teem with wildflowers that have been blooming on the Great Plains since the early days of the explorers. Come for purple spiderwort, daisies, bluebells, blue flax, red columbine, purple coneflower, daisies, and bellflowers, and stay for some wildlife, like burrowing owls, coyotes, bison, and prairie dogs.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She loves all wildflowers, but especially the Tom Petty ones

Travel

8 Suburbs Near Phoenix You Should Absolutely Visit

You could use a little space.

Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ

Phoenix is pretty great. There’s the burgeoning culinary scene, the diverse culture, the arts, of course, the sports, the great outdoors, and don’t forget about the more than 300 days of annual sunshine. We could really go on, and on, about how great this place is, but all of that greatness can blind you to all the excellence just outside it. The suburbs across The Valley are not to be missed. To encourage you to actually explore them, here’s what the best of ‘em have to offer.

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Tempe

Notably, Tempe is recognized as home to one of the largest universities in the country, Arizona State. But this Phoenix suburb is so much more than a college town, although it does add to its undeniable magic. Downtown Tempe plays hosts to epic arts festivals, dragon boat races, marathons and triathlons, and dozens of other events that all take place a short-distance from Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile long perennial reservoir and urban park that attracts cylicts, rowers, and active types. Break a sweat with a hike to the top of A Mountain and take in a panoramic sunset view. Or, just belly-up to the bar at one of Tempe’s innumerable craft breweries. Both are solid choices. And both can get you acquainted with this laidback Phoenix suburb.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho

Scottsdale

Nearly half of Scottsdale’s land area is dedicated to open spaces and untamed desert. Outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, road cycling, horseback riding, and kayaking reign supreme here, and the city certainly leans toward an active, wellness-centered lifestyle. And while there’s no shortage of desert to explore, Scottsdale also claims some of the best spas in the world, award-winning restaurants, world-class golf courses, it’s the center stage for major events like luxury car auctions and sporting events, and it’s even got a bustling arts scene. This Phoenix suburb checks all of the boxes, really.

Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert

Gilbert

Not too long ago Gilbert was a sort of sleepy, far-away farm town. That’s certainly not the case anymore. Gilbert has grown exponentially, but its agricultural roots are still readily present in its personality and charm. Downtown Gilbert is home to dozens of restaurants and bars, most of which have a local, farm-to-table approach, naturally. And then there’s Agritopia, a friendly neighborhood with its very own shared garden and community spaces that include Epicenter and BARNONE, where you can order a wood-fired pizza, a can of experimental natural wine, and camp out under a canopy of trees in the open-air. It’s practically a utopia.

Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography

Cave Creek

A gateway to Horseshoe and Bartlett Lakes, Cave Creek’s position on the outskirts of Tonto National Forest makes it a primo spot for outdoor activities like biking and hiking and adventure by way of air balloon or horseback. Modern cowboys and gals can mosey over to The Buffalo Chip Saloon where bull riding and swing dancing are just part of a typical day. Additionally, Cave Creek has its own botanical garden, raptor rescue, and a gallery packed with person-sized crystals. And it’s all yours to discover.

Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr

Mesa

Point your GPS east and you’ll arrive in Mesa, Arizona’s third largest city. Whether you’re after outdoor adventure, looking to explore the arts and culture scene, or searching for locally made ciders and craft beer, Mesa has it all. There’s a hip, growing downtown area lined with storefronts, restaurants, theaters, and tasting rooms. And if you’re game for a little outdoor recreation, Mesa is your jumping-off point to scenic Sonoran Desert trails including Usery Mountain Regional Park, Lost Dutchman State Park, and San Tan Regional Park. Mesa is also just a short distance from The Salt River where you can cruise by wild horses and native wildlife via paddle board and Saguaro Lake is just up the road.

Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills

At the center of this Phoenix suburb is an expansive urban park and monumental water fountain that tops out at 560-feet. The fountain in Fountain Hills is larger than the Washington Monument, and it’s three times as high as Old Faithful. Pack a picnic and spread out in the park for an afternoon where you can traverse the walkable paths, cycle around the waterway, or play a competitive bout of frisbee golf. If you swing more towards traditional golf, there’s a shortlist of premier golf courses to tee-off at. And like many of the Phoenix suburbs here, Fountain Hills is surrounded by wide-open desert and scenic vistas just waiting to be explored.

Camelback Ranch - Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale

Glendale

Arizona sports teams including the Coyotes and Cardinals have home turf advantage in Glendale. Over the years Glendale has hosted three Super Bowl bouts and will host another in 2023. But Glendale’s not just a sports mecca for fans of professional football and hockey. This Phoenix suburb is homebase to Camelback Ranch, a modern ballpark with all the amenities where the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers take the field each season as part of Cactus League Spring Training. Take your time in Glendale into extra innings and visit Historic Old Town Glendale. Here you’ll encounter eclectic antique and vintage stores, restaurants, candy shops, and coffee houses.

Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery

Chandler 

Museums, urban parks, art galleries, and growing neighborhoods like Uptown Chandler and Downtown Chandler give this Phoenix suburb lots of appeal. Rows of palm trees line the Downtown area where you can start your day with a locally roasted coffee and organic breakfast bowl. Downtown Chandler regularly hosts community-focused events and it’s a popular hangout for craft beer drinkers. SanTan Brewery, Pedal Haus, and The Perch, with 40 beers on tap and tropical birds at every turn, all call this Phoenix suburb home.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Lauren Topor Reichert is a Phoenix-based multimedia storyteller, photographer, and content creator. Her work has been featured in travel guides, national publications, and the social feeds of some stellar local restaurants. Follow her around Arizona, and beyond, on Instagram @hungryinphoenix.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.
icons/states/check

Please enter a valid email address