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Marveling at the Stunning California Poppy Bloom

Are you a flower lover? Are you always chasing a superbloom? Luckily, California has a distinct growing season for its California poppies that almost always guarantees fields of these gorgeous flowers, and we’ll tell you the best place to find them.


“[N]ot orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

When all of those forty-niners heard of the fabled “fields of gold” out west in California during the 19th-century gold strikes, they probably had visions of fields covered with gold nuggets. Unfortunately for most of them, that’s not what they found. Instead, those golden fields might have been covered in the California State Flower, Eschscholzia California, aka Golden State poppies.

We loved seeing those rich golden blossoms along the highway as we drove along during our California road trip. They can be found everywhere from the beach to the mountains and they really brighten up some otherwise drab roadsides.

We found them at King Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We found them along the Pacific Coast Highway, and of course, we even found them all up and down I-5. To say the California state flower is ubiquitous is quite an understatement.

In this article:

Hiking through fields of gold at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

The California Poppy Bloom

Every spring these bright orange flowers brighten up the roadsides all along the west coast from California to Washington. And they can last well into the summer. They are hardy little plants that can take root in some of the driest areas. I guess that makes sense for a state that has been under severe drought conditions for so long.

The flowers often grow in small clusters of velvety orange, buttery gold spackling hillsides and meadows. While it’s possible to find poppies along the highways and byways throughout the state, there is really just one place to go to really get your fill of Golden State Poppies–the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

A carpet of Golden State Poppies at Antelope Valley.

Golden Poppies at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

We visited the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve on our California National Parks road trip one year and then again during an I-5 road trip another year. Both times we went in early spring and we weren’t disappointed!

The Poppy Reserve has eight miles of trails winding around and over the rolling hills of the Mojave Desert Grassland habitat. While there are a variety of wildflowers to be found here, golden poppies are by far the most abundant, carpeting the hills and meadows in lush gold every year between March and May.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve sign.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve General Info

There are a few things to keep in mind when you visit. First off, it is not free. There is a $10 parking fee to park in the lot but then you can stay all day. Also, dogs are not allowed. Sorry, but other than trained service dogs, your furry friends should be left at home.

The reserve is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, but of course, spring is the best time to experience the wildflowers. There is an art gallery, wildflower and wildlife exhibits, and a gift shop at the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center. The center is open from March 1st until Mother’s Day, weekdays 9 am – 5 pm and weekends 10 am – 4 pm.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve Park Rules

  • Stay on the trails
  • No smoking, food, or bikes on the trails
  • Food only in the picnic area or in the parking lot
  • Don’t pick the flowers
  • This is a no-fly zone for drones
  • Don’t bring your dogs, only trained service animals allowed
Eight miles of paved trails for walking through the poppies at the California Poppy Reserve, with thousands of golden poppies.

Can You Pick California State Golden Poppies?

California law does not prohibit picking the state flower. However, you can only pick them on your own property, or on someone else’s property if they have given you permission.

State law does specify that it is against the law to pick any flower or remove anything from private property or government property. So please don’t pick the poppies at the reserve! Besides, once picked the California poppy will quickly drop its petals.

Golden poppies create a vivid contrast with the clear blue California skies.

When is the Best Time to Go?

The best time for the poppy bloom is late March through mid-April. The best days to visit the park are definitely weekdays as weekends can get very crowded. The best time of day is late afternoon towards sunset as the setting sun will add a deep, rich hue to the flowers.

I love a great sunrise and morning is also a good time to visit, however, there are a few things to consider. California poppies, like many other flowers, close up tight at night. On particularly cool or overcast mornings, the flowers may be slow to “wake up.” Also, the Interpretive Center doesn’t open until 9 or 10 depending on the day of the week.

There is a large variety of wildflowers that color the fields and hills at the reserve, each with their own specific best times for blooming. However, the golden poppies are what we went for and that is true for most visitors.

California poppies blooming in early May at Antelope Valley.

How to Get to Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

One spring a while back we were driving north on I-5 outside of Sacrament and did a search on Google Maps. Sure enough, it found an Antelope Valley in the hills west of the highway. After driving for more than an hour through the rolling foothills covered in grass and grazing cows, we realized this was not the right Antelope Valley.

In fact, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is in southern California about 80 miles north of Los Angeles. To get there from LA, take exit 162 off of I-5 to CA-14N and continue north to exit 44 and head west on Avenue I directly to Lancaster Road and then on to the reserve.

If you’re heading south on I-5 from northern California, take the CA-138 Lancaster/Palmdale exit and continue on highway 138 about 13 miles to Lancaster road. Continue on Lancaster road to the reserve (about 12 miles).

Corinne can't get enough of these beautiful Golden State Poppies at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

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Conclusion

I fell in love with the California Poppy as a child living in northern California. We had a field near our house that was carpeted in these amazing velvety gold blossoms. The best place to go for a practically guaranteed “field of gold'” however, is the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, California.

Author Bio: Jim Vail, is an avid traveler and explorer. He’s been to all fifty states and traveled around the world. He’s happiest shooting wildlife photography, camping, and hiking in the mountains, or fishing on the side of a river in Alaska.

Sheila

Tuesday 6th of February 2024

I've always wanted to see fields of wildflowers in full bloom, and this seems like the perfect opportunity. Planning a trip to Antelope Valley soon, and I can't wait to witness the beauty of these vibrant orange blossoms! And I'll make sure to remind everyone not to pick the poppies.

Jake

Monday 5th of February 2024

We used to live in San Diego, but never made our way up the coast in time to see the amazing poppy bloom! After reading this article we'll definitely be planning our next trip back in between March and May. This looks absolutely beautiful. Thanks for the tips!

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 6th of February 2024

The poppy bloom is definitely worth the drive! Enjoy!

Leah Ingram

Monday 5th of February 2024

I was researching cherry blossoms and somehow stumbled upon your article about the poppy bloom. This looks gorgeous and I can't wait to see this in person.