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 usually the dreamiest. The reserve (parking lot at roughly 15101 Lancaster Rd; $10) is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, but it’s only dotted with poppies for a very small slice of the year. So before you hit the freeway, make sure you keep these things in mind.
Follow the bloom status (which is a little complicated this year).
As of late April, the limited poppy blooms at the reserve are already on their way out—but you can still see some fleeting displays of poppies just outside of the park. (Note: All of the photos in this story are from mid-April, when the blooms were at their peak.)
Here’s what happened: The reserve received snow (snow!) in late February, which set the bloom back a few weeks. With more rain after that and a streak of cool weather, brome grasses and fiddlenecks began to outcompete the warm-weather–loving poppies at the reserve. So while you were able to see some poppies on the climb to Kitanemuk Vista Point, along the adjacent Lightning Bolt Trail and past the edges of the Antelope Trail South Loop and Antelope Butte Trail, an all-over orange carpet à la the 2019 super bloom never arrived. With summer-strength heat quickly on its way, expect any remaining blossoms to quickly recede.
Just minutes outside the park, relatively thick expanses of poppies can be found along Highway 138 and in the dirt roads off Lancaster Road—at least until the heat arrives. We dive into those in more detail later on in this story.
Back to the reserve itself: 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. Typically, the bloom lasts through mid-April—or until the eventual heat cooks all of the flowers.
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).
If you’re on the hunt for flowers elsewhere, 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. On the flip side, once the temperatures start to climb into the 90s for the season, it can become unbearably hot since there’s basically no shade—and the poppies start to quickly cook, as well.
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.
The most impressive poppy displays may actually be just outside the reserve.
As we mentioned up top, the super bloom eluded the hills of the Poppy Reserve in 2023—but as of mid-April was going pretty strong on the flats just north, west and southeast of the park. Though we haven’t visited in person again since then, a quick check of photos in late-April shows that flowers are still visible in this spots, but definitely past their peak.
Now, things get a little complicated outside of the friendly confines of the state park: Many of the poppy-covered fields are on private property, but some of them are bisected by public roads that range from slightly gravelly to “you’re going to need a Jeep.” In any case, these side roads simply aren’t built to handle an influx of tourists—especially this year, as so much of the super bloom is concentrated outside of the park.
So venture onto any dirt roads at your own (and your car undercarriage’s) risk. To that end, we’d suggest avoiding the dirt roads just to the west of the reserve as there are very few places to turn around and the blooms are just alright. That said, we found two areas that we can confidently point visitors toward.
Along Highway 138, west of 120th Street
Otherwise known as Avenue D, this two-lane road north of the reserve tends to be considerably less trafficked than the more direct route to the south. As you venture west of 120th Street, you’ll spot sprawling fields of poppies on either side of the road, often with roomy shoulders or firm dirt roads that you can pull onto. Remember, though: The flowers themselves are often on private property, so please don’t venture into the fields.
On the north side of Lancaster Road, just east of the park—but only in certain spots
From inside the reserve, you’ll spot bright orange streaks of flowers to the southeast; if you pull up a map, this is the grid of dirt roads north of Lancaster Road. You can’t miss them if you’re taking the main route to the reserve from the east—but actually getting to them can be a challenge. Some of the turnoffs are gated off or have private property signs posted. Others are open but with steep, uneven sandy entrances that’ll have your tires spinning.
But we found one entrance that we can reliably recommend: Myrick Canyon Road. You’ll easily spot this by the entrance sign for Art in Residence, a plot of rotating art installations. The paved road quickly turns into a sandy but easy-to-drive path that leads to a parking area next to the gallery’s installation. The road here is pretty drivable as it continues north, as is the perpendicular Avenue G at the very top. Any of the other side roads around here are really a gamble, though: some are nothing more than dirt tire tracks, others are lined with stiff brush in the center and all are way too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic. Consider parking by Art in Residence and tackling the rest of the area (carefully) on foot. As always: Please don’t venture into the actual flower beds.
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 or pull over to walk the roadside patches of poppies.
Our advice for those crazy traffic days? Approach the reserve from the west instead of the east. 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 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, 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 beyond that, trails thin out and tend to be remarkably peaceful and wonderfully fragrant (not from the poppies, but from the many other yellow, white and purple flowers that line the pathways). It’s why—if you’re up for a hike—we’d still recommended a visit to the Poppy Reserve, even though it’s not the most super bloom-y spot this year: It’s still one of the dreamiest places around, and a wonderful space to appreciate the improbable springtime miracle of the desert bloom. On the other hand, if you’re hellbent on a poppy photo and nothing else, the fields outside of the reserve will definitely suffice (and are lush enough this year that they’re frankly worth a visit regardless of whether or not you’re looking to pose).