Eschscholzia californica is as essentially Californian as Disneyland, In-N-Out and Huell Howser. Never heard of it? You probably know it better as the California poppy. When we’ve been bestowed with plenty of wintertime rain, our beloved state flower dots the region in bright golden blossoms. We Angelenos are particularly lucky to live less than two hours away from the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve—a more than 1,700-acre park of poppy-blanketed hills.
The Poppy Reserve isn’t the only place to see wildflowers, but it’s definitely the dreamiest. The reserve (parking lot at roughly 15101 Lancaster Rd) is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, but it’s only just starting to show signs of poppies. So before you hit the freeway, make sure you keep these things in mind.
Follow the bloom status (which is a little delayed this year).
The California State Parks website occasionally posts updates on the bloom status, but you’ll find the most current info on their Facebook and Instagram, as well as on an old-fashioned phone hotline (661-724-1180), which notes the flowering flora along each trail.
If you need up-to-the-minute visual confirmation, the park even operates a live webcam now (of all those options, we’d say this gives the best indication of the bloom; just remember that if you check in the morning, the flowers are likely still closed up and less colorful than when they’re open on a sunny afternoon).
As of mid-March, a small number of poppies are just starting to bloom. The reserve notes that it received snow (snow!) on February 25, and so that’s set the bloom back a few weeks. It’s still unknown when we’ll see peak bloom (it’s historically between late March and April). For now, the reserve suggests walking along the Antelope Trail North Loop and Kitanemuk vista point.
If you’re on the hunt for flowers outside of the reserve, the Theodore Payne Foundation keeps a log of bloom statuses across SoCal on its phone hotline-turned-website.
Check the weather, for your sake and the poppies.
Like Angelenos, poppies are meteorologically temperamental. They close up at night as well as on cold, windy days. About that wind: Expect it to be significantly stronger at the reserve than the surrounding areas. Lucky for you, the state posts the wind speeds at the reserve on the hour. Also, the Mojave has the potential to have drastically different and unpredictable weather compared to L.A., so you’ll probably want to bring a sweatshirt along.
Anecdotally, we once rolled up to the reserve on a sunny day around 11am and were shivering while looking at half-closed poppies, but less than two hours later we’d shed our outer layer while the poppies were fully opened. On that topic, do keep in mind that there’s zero shade on the trails; definitely bring along some sunscreen, lots of water and a snack (don’t litter, please).
Explore the desert.
We don’t know about you, but a trip to the High Desert isn’t exactly a regular occasion for us. Admission to the reserve is priced per vehicle ($10) and is valid at any other state parks for the rest of the day. Take a side trip to the Joshua tree-filled Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, or, if you’re willing to trek a little farther, Saddleback Butte State Park and Red Rock Canyon State Park. On the ride back into L.A., consider a stop at sci-fi favorite Vasquez Rocks. You’ll also likely find plenty of poppies in the areas surrounding the reserve.
Stay on the trail and don’t lay on or pick the flowers—or the snakes will eat you.
There’s apparently some confusion about whether it’s illegal to pick poppies in California. The short answer: Just don’t. The more complex answer: Picking any flower on state land is illegal, and you can only do so on private land with the permission of the landowner. So while there’s no law specifically about poppies, plucking one of California’s precious state flowers from either the reserve or the surrounding private plots is both illegal and appallingly selfish. The same goes for trampling the flowers. You don’t want to stray off of the trail anyway: that’s Mojave green rattlesnake territory. They probably won’t eat you. Probably.
If it’s a dazzling bloom, brace yourself for crowds and traffic.
Like a cheerier version of the Santa Ana Winds, super blooms whip Angelenos into a frenzy. So depending on your route, you can expect a considerable backup on the approach to the reserve, particularly on weekends. When the reserve hits peak bloom, the parking lot fills up pretty early; arrive before noon and there’s a good chance cars will only be let in as others leave. In that case, you’ll be waved past the turn for the reserve where you can park alongside the street for free (expect this to add at least a half of a mile to your hike). If you arrive later in the day, there may be space in the lot, but you’ll likely be stuck in a miles-long backup on Lancaster Road as cars queue up for the pay station.
Most motorists approach from the east, and you’ll likely find cars pulling over to walk the small patches of poppies that line the road a few minutes east of the reserve. If you’re hellbent on a poppy photo, then sure, stop (make sure to pay attention to any private property signs). But we think those pale in comparison to the grandeur of the reserve proper.
Our advice for those crazy traffic days? Approach the reserve from the west instead of the east, where the largest backups occur. For starters, unless traffic on the northbound 14 freeway is truly horrific, don’t take San Francisquito Canyon Road on the way up; while your mapping app of choice may want to route you through there, as it’s the most direct way in terms of mileage from Los Angeles, you’ll be stuck on a narrow, winding canyon road with nothing around. Take the 14 instead. But don’t get off at Avenue I, which will take you directly to the reserve. (And, again, this only applies when the area has hit peak bloom status.) Instead, continue north to the 138 and take that west. Closer to the reserve, you’ll find fields filled with poppies just off the side of the road (these are considerably larger and less crowded than the ones on Lancaster Road east of the reserve). Make a left onto 170th Street, then a left onto Lancaster Road and you’ll be right near the park entrance and have avoided miles of traffic. We wouldn’t suggest sitting in the backup to enter the parking lot; just take a spot on the side of the road and hike in.
Unlike 2019’s pandemonium in Lake Elsinore, the staff at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve has the procedure down to a science, with traffic management, extra portable toilets and trail maps.
Speaking of the trails—and again, this is really only relevant for years with notable blooms—yes, some of them can be crowded, particularly on the paved paths near the visitor center and the snaking, uphill trail to the Kitanemuk vista point. But we’ve historically found the Antelope Butte Trail and Antelope Trail South Loop to be lightly traveled, while the alien, potentially yellow-flower–filled landscape of the Poppy Trail North Loop tends to be practically empty. In the past, we’ve also particularly loved the less-crowded Poppy Trail South Loop, where you can stare at an unbroken sea of orange as poppies cover the gentle slope of the hill.
Check out our footage from the 2019 super bloom below.
Poppy bloom at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Here’s everything you need to know before seeing the poppies in Antelope Valley. http://bit.ly/2FM3DFRPosted by Time Out Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30, 2019