After a long, cold winter we’re all looking forward to spring. The increasingly longer days, the warmer weather and, of course, the beautiful blooming flowers that seem to sprout up overnight. If you’re hoping to see the most brilliant flower displays, though, you might need to travel a bit farther than your own backyard.
According to TakePart, climate change, invasive species and city sprawl all play a part in changing the best wildflower viewing spots. Melanie Haiken of TakePart has examined this year’s conditions and came up with a list of the best places to see incredible wildflower displays.
Melanie Haiken highlights the five places that promise a spectacular show and wrote a bit about what you might want to do should you make the trip:
Washington County, Texas
Texas is one place where unusual weather patterns are having a positive effect on wildflower populations; the Texas Wildflower Report says September rains spurred early germination and stronger roots.
Best bloom spotting: Texans come from all over the state to drive the “bluebonnet trail,” an 80-mile figure eight made by US 290, Texas 105, and the smaller roads linking the towns of Brenham, Chappell Hill, Independence, and Washington-on-the-Brazos. In particular, the bluebonnet fields that line FM 1155 are not to be missed. Old Baylor Park in Independence, the original site of Baylor University, is now a nature preserve with some of the best opportunities for getting out of your car and into the fields.
What you’re looking for: fields of bluebonnets. You’ll find a sea of blue in some places, in others carpets of prairie parsley, Indian paintbrush, skullcaps, purple coneflower, verbena, beardtongue, and the aptly named coral bean.
Where to stay: The Ant Street Inn, a historic brick-walled hotel in downtown Brenham, is a boutique hotel that offers the generous breakfast spread of a country B and B. Rocking chairs overlook a bounteous garden so you’ll have flowers at your doorstep as well as on your drives.
Extra tip: In Washington County, not all of the prettiest flowers are wild; take a detour to the Chappell Hill Lavender Farm where you can stroll, picnic, and cut your own lavender for $5 a bunch.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Times are tough in this desert for wildflowers, which have suffered from years of harsh drought. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see; according to Joshua Tree wildflower updates, the beavertail cacti are coming into bloom, and the park’s sandy washes are alive with delicate desert flowers.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Best bloom-spotting: From your car, you’ll see mosaics of color along Pinto Basin Road. But since most desert wildflowers are small and close to the ground, you’ll be rewarded by much better photo ops if you venture on foot into Black Rock Canyon, Cottonwood Wash, Sylvia’s Wash and up Mastodon Peak.
What you’re looking for: Bladderpod, Canterbury Bells, desert rock pea, desert primrose, tidy-tips, globe mallow, ocotillo, and aromatic creosote and desert lavender.
Where to stay: Cold nights notwithstanding, camping at Black Rock Campground is by far the best way to immerse yourself in the desert flora.
Extra tip: Stop by the modest Joshua Tree Inn to see the guitar statue that’s become a shrine to country rock pioneer Gram Parsons. And if you hate to camp, of course, you can stay there too – room 8, where Parsons died, is reputed to be haunted.
Door County, Wisconsin
This narrow finger of land sticking into Lake Michigan is like one giant nature preserve, with cooler temperatures that create ideal conditions for rare wildflowers found almost nowhere else. And as if that’s not enough of a draw, spring also covers the rural peninsula’s orchards in clouds of bloom.
Best bloom-spotting: Bailey’s Harbor is perhaps the most famous area of Door County, known for the 25 varieties of orchids that grow along its shoreline in a lacy network of sandy islands known as swales layered between marshy wetlands. Sadly these native orchids, always rare, are getting rarer thanks to ecosystem changes and overzealous plant lovers and collectors. Luckily, there are lots more flowers to see, too; the lakeshore’s cooler temperatures have created a boreal forest, home to many plants typically found only much further north. Don’t miss the Ridges Sanctuary, designated a National Natural Landmark and “important bird area” by the Audubon society, where a network of trails and bridges loop across the swales.
What you’re looking for: Native lady’s slipper and rams head orchids, Arctic primrose, trailing arbutus, marsh marigold, bog buckbeans, and the threatened dwarf lake iris.
Where to stay: In Bailey’s Harbor, the best views are from lakeside Blacksmith Inn on the Shore, which also has kayaks and bikes on offer to make forays to local bloom hotspots easy and eco-friendly.
Extra tip: Get out of your car and onto the Door County Trolley, which offers a spring blossom tour that takes you to hidden peninsulas blanketed with flowers – Lunch and wine tasting at local wineries included.
Antelope Valley, California
One look at the photos on the California Poppy Preserve website, and you’ll be in your car – this western edge of the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles is one of the last places where you can see whole hillsides covered in the spectacular state flower of the aptly named Golden State.
At least, that’s what you used to see; years of drought have restricted seed germination, leading botanists to call this one of the worst wildflower seasons ever. That said, even a paltry showing of poppies here is better than you’re going to get elsewhere, since the same problem is occurring across the state.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Best bloom-spotting: Check out Kitanemuk Vista Point, Valley Vista Point, and Antelope Butte Vista Point, where the shadier, northern slopes of the hills offer more protection from the heat.
Where to stay: You can make the drive to Antelope Valley as a day trip from L.A.; if that’s your preference, Le Parc Suites Hotel in West Hollywood makes a great choice, with its rooftop pool, retro elegance, and convenient valet parking so you can get an early start. If you want to be closer, both Palmdale and Lancaster have a string of basic chain hotels to choose from.
Extra tip: En route from L.A. to Antelope Valley, stop for breakfast at the mind-bogglingly retro Saugus Café, seemingly frozen in time in 1952.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The wildflowers of the Smoky Mountains are so beloved, they have their own Facebook page. Need I say more?
Best bloom-spotting: In this sprawling park, which spans both western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, choosing the best spot depends on what you want to see, and when you want to see it. The Greenbriar area is dogwood central, while the Chestnut Top and Porter’s Creek trails are favorite hunting grounds for woodland flowers.
What you’re looking for: Many come just to see the dogwoods, violets, and columbine, but there’s so much more: Dutchman’s breeches, phlox, bee balm, bleeding heart, trillium, bellwort, and coneflower are only the beginning.
Where to stay: Gatlinburg has a wealth of places to stay, many on the quaint and colorful side, but a standout is Eight Gables Inn, which offers a special “wildflower pilgrimage” package.
Extra tip: The National Park Service offers maps of wildflower walks as well as status reports about which trails and areas are open or closed depending on weather and other factors.
The tips in this post were written by Melanie Haiken and originally appeared on TakePart.