To me, deserts are some of the most beautiful ecosystems found in the world.
Who can really affirm a desert is lifeless?
Some years (depends on weather and winter rains), certain parts of the Mojave Desert get covered under a sheet of bright orange flowers. The responsible for this burst of life is California’s state flower: the poppy.
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About the California Poppy
The poppy has always been recognized as something special. Early Spanish Californians called it Dormidera, “the drowsy one,” because the petals curl up at night. They fashioned a hair tonic by frying the blossoms in olive oil and adding perfume.
Around 1810, a German botanist called Adelbert von Chamisso gave the poppy its scientific name, Eschscholzia californica, in honor of his friend Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz. Both visited the West on a scientific expedition aboard a Russian ship.
Von Chamisso original sketches exist till this day.
The poppy thrives in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Baja California.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
As mentioned, the poppy can be found in different places. However, I do not think you are going to find better viewing areas than the ones we have in Central and Southern California.
In the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, located north of Los Angeles, close to the city of Lancaster, the poppies cover an area of 1,781 acres. And, that is just within the reserve! The adjacent and nearby areas are covered in flowers too.
A few years ago, I visited the reserve and ended up amazed. I visited again this year and the bloom was superior to what I saw before. I was able to see the hills on “fire” from miles away.
To give you an idea of what I am talking about, take a look at the photos below.
This place is more impressive than others I have visited because 25-30 different plants are in bloom along with the poppy. I saw many shades of yellow, white, pink and purple. That made things even prettier.
The reserve counts with 7 miles of trails. It is simple to move around but there are maps available if you feel like you need one. The farther you get from the entrance, the more you leave the crowds behind. To be honest, you do not have to walk a lot to find peace and quietness.
I found the trails inside the reserve pretty easy to conquer. Definitely, walk to the vista points to get magnificent views of the reserve, pastures, hills, and mountains.
At the reserve, you are going to find the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center, named for the painter who was instrumental in setting aside an area where California’s state ﬂower could be preserved for future generations to admire. Some of Pinheiro’s watercolors are on display in the center, which also has wildﬂower interpretive displays, videos, and merchandise.
Keep in mind all plants, rocks and historic objects inside the reserve are protected. Please follow the rules to keep this place pristine.
Stay on official trails. Do not step over the flowers. This is serious. You may be fined if the Rangers see you doing this (and I saw them giving a ticket to a group).
Do not pick flowers. If you do so, you are destroying seeds that may have contributed to next year’s bloom. We want more flowers not less.
Eat within designated areas and use trashcans. Do not feed wildlife.
Dogs and drones are prohibited. Smoking is not allowed.
Be courteous and drive carefully
The reserve gets crowded when the flowers are in full bloom. Wait times to park can be more than an hour. It is possible to park outside and walk. If you choose to do this, make sure you leave your car on a safe location (without blocking the main road).
If you enter the reserve by foot, consider making a donation at the visitor’s center. Entrance fee is $10 by car. You will save that money if you walk in. However, it would be nice if you give that amount anyway. In that way, you are still supporting the California State Park.
Prepare for your Visit
Since the reserve is technically in the desert, wear sunblock, sunglasses, a hat/cap and, if possible, long sleeves. Flowers bloom from mid-March to mid-April. Weather is going to be on the chillier side. Also, the wind can be implacable in this area.
I recommend having a substantial meal before arriving at the reserve. You are going to be, at least, 15 miles from the nearest town. Also, it would be a good idea to bring water and snacks (eat in designated areas only). Potable water is available at the visitor’s center (you can fill a bottle).
Other Places to See Poppies
If you cannot make it to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, there are other options to consider:
- Walker Canyon (Lake Elsinore)
- Diamond Lake (Hemet)
- Chino Hills State Park
- Bear Valley
- Montana de Oro State Park and Point Buchon (near Morro Bay)
Other places to see wildflowers include:
- Figueroa Mountain (Santa Barbara)
- Hungry Valley State Vehicular Area
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Anza Borrego State Park
- Botanical Gardens all over the state
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve Location
Lancaster is located 70 miles from Downtown Los Angeles. Depending on traffic, it will take you 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the city.
Visitors from Los Angeles use the I-5 and CA-14 freeways to reach Lancaster. The connection between these two freeways (close to Santa Clarita) is heavily trafficked during rush hours. Because of that, I recommend avoiding this spot during those times.
Visitors coming from points north should connect to CA-138 from the I-5.
More About Lancaster
After visiting the reserve, take some time to visit Lancaster. The city’s main downtown drag, The BLVD, has been declared a California Cultural District. I have a detailed article with plenty of ideas on what to do, see and eat in the city.
Each spring the poppy makes us remember how alive is the Mojave. The spectacle is one of the best I have seen.
More of Southern California
Find out how to spend one fun-filled day in Los Angeles
Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
Have you been to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve?
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