Best Early Spring Hikes In California

 Every season is a hiking season in California, only with different beauties. Early spring’s magic is the wildflower bloom! It starts as early as January, and it’s over by April – at least at lower elevations and in the deserts. The Sierra Nevada is mostly covered by snow in April, wildflower blooming there is a summer event.

But what did we like the most in early spring? All the green! Early spring is your only chance to see the lush green California. If you miss it, you have to wait until next winter, because the landscape becomes brownish-yellowish by May, and it will remain so until the first winter rains.

Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, USA

So in this post we focus on the lush green landscapes and the early spring wildflowers, and we’ll show you some of our favorite hikes that come with these. Ready for wildflower hunting? Let’s go.

The spectacular wildflower blooming in Southern California’s deserts

Southern California’s wildflowers are the first to bloom. The extent and timing of spring wildflower blooms vary from one year to the next, but it can start as early as January. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is said to be the most spectacular, though the blooming is very short.

Best wildflower hikes in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Calcite Mine loop trail is about 6 kilometres long and the best to do in early spring when the barren landscape comes alive. You can explore the adjacent slot canyons, too.

Borrego Palm Canyon is a palm oasis which becomes even more impressive with a colorful flower display. The 1.1 km long Cactus Loop Trail is also great in early spring, but it gives insight into desert vegetation any time of the year.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is great for a weekend getaway from San Diego. You can spend the night in Julian or Borrego Springs. If you’re determined (and get up early), you can even do it as a day trip from San Diego. But be prepared to drive about 2 hours one-way.

Half Moon Bay, California, USA

Best wildflower hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Wildflower bloom in Joshua Tree National Park usually starts around February at lower elevations, and in March-April at higher elevations. Unfortunately, we haven’t been so lucky to see them, but we just can’t miss them out from this list as it would feel so incomplete.

If you want to plan your travels to see the wildflower bloom, it’s worth checking all the online reports about current conditions in the parks (just like this one), because it’s easy to miss it.

Some of the most popular wildflower hiking trails in the park are Lost Palms Oasis Trail (~7 miles out-and-back) and Ryan Mountain Trail (~3 miles out-and-back). Skull Rock Nature Trail is a pretty and easy loop trail (~1.6 miles) with picturesque rock formations and desert flora all year. Arch Rock Nature Trail is similarly nice and easy.

Death Valley National Park blooming

Even the extremely hot Death Valley can be full of flowers for a short period of time if conditions are met. Though blossoms are never totally absent, it’s rare that conditions are just perfect for a colorful bloom – or superbloom. If we would be there that year and that time though… It could be such a unique experience!

Best parks and trails to see California poppies

February and March is the usual time for wildflower blooms on California’s ocean coast. The lush green hills become vivid orange at some places as millions of California poppies are in bloom!

On the coast: Big Sur & Point Reyes

Big Sur, California, USA

Big Sur was one of our favorite places for coastal poppy hikes. Andrew Molera State Park or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offer lovely trails, both shorter and longer. Any of the coastal bluff trails could be a good choice, like the Pacific Valley Bluff Trail or the Bluffs Trail in Andrew Molera State Park.

Point Reyes National Seashore is another fabulous place not only for wildflowers, but also for wildlife, seals, birds and even migrating whales. Chimney Rock Trail and Tomales Point Trail are in two different areas of the park, but both offer amazing ocean vistas and spring wildflowers.

Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, USA

Antelope Valley

Located about 90 miles from Los Angeles, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve is a popular place to see and photograph California poppies. The most intense blooming falls usually within mid-February and mid-May, but it heavily depends on the amount of rainfall during that particular winter.

Antelope Loop Trail is a ~5.6 miles loop that has nice hilltop views and gives a taste of everything this small reserve has to offer.

Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo, California, USA

This is the best place for wildflower hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hiking Mount Diablo in the beginning of March was actually our most beautiful and colorful wildflower hike in Central California. The variety of wildflowers is amazing: California poppies, daffodils, dove lupines, shooting stars and many more that we need to consult Wikipedia to identify.

Hike to the Mount Diablo Summit via the Grand Loop hike to see the best of the park, not only the flowers, but some panoramic views, as well. Mitchell Rock Trail or the North Peak Trail are also great options to see many flowers.

Mount Diable State Park, CA, USA

Mount Diablo Grand Loop (full day hike)
Start: Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center
Route to Mount Diablo: Mitchell Rock Trail – Eagle Peak Trail to Eagle Peak – Eagle Peak Trail to Bald Ridge – Prospectors Gap (five-way intersection) – North Peak Trail – Summit Trail to Mount Diablo
Route back to Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center: Juniper Trail to Juniper Campground – Deer Flat Road – Mitchell Canyon Road

Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mount Tamalpais State Park, California, USA

Tamalpais was one of our favorite parks for day hikes while living in the Bay Area. It has its own treats for spring, too. The Dipsea – Steep Ravine loop runs through green meadows carpeted with flowers and offers nice ocean views, too. The Phoenix Lake – Yolanda Trail loop takes you past streams and waterfalls, and has lots of greenery and flowers (California poppies included) after the winter rains.

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, Central California

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, CA, USA

This preserve is right behind the wild and beautiful Pescadero State Beach. It’s worth a visit not only because of the wildflowers, but also because of the excellent bird-watching spots. About 200 species of birds have been recorded in the marsh, and more than 60 (including the Great Blue Heron) nest there.

Both spring and summer have a broad spectrum of wildflowers on display in the marsh and on the beach bluff trail. They’re short, about 3 miles altogether. Wildflowers were already in bloom when we visited it at the beginning of March.

Pescadero State Beach, CA, USA

Also, simply walking on Pescadero State Beach is a lovely romantic addition for couples and sentimental dreamers. It’s one of our favorite beaches in the Bay Area, tranquil and beautiful.

Coastal bluff trails in Half Moon Bay, Central California

Half Moon Bay State Beach and the nearby beaches and coastal trails altogether are often referred to as “Half Moon Bay”. They offer several shorter coastal trails, and the chance to see wildlife there is pretty high. When it comes to wildflowers, a colorful selection is guaranteed on the bluff trails in early spring (from late February to mid-April).

We’ve seen a bunch of seals both around Moss Beach and Pillar Point Bluff. The loveliest wildflower trail was probably Pillar Point Bluff Trail, located just south of Moss Beach. The Moss Beach Bluff Trail, north of Moss Beach Distillery, delivered views of the cutest bunch of harbor seals we encountered on the Central coast.

Moss Beach, California, USA

Maverick’s Beach and Half Moon Bay State Beach offer easy beach walks, with occasional wildflowers. However, our favorite hidden gem in the area is Cowell Ranch State Beach.

This beach is really well hidden and accessible by a short trail. But Google Maps gave us a pretty good clue where we should start looking for it. There’s a small parking lot by a yellow gate which indicates the trailhead. Cowell Ranch State Beach itself is north of the bluff trail and is accessible by wooden stairs. There’s a beach south of the bluff trail, too, and it’s definitely worth taking a look at it, because it’s a seal preserve (for that reason it’s not accessible).

Mendocino Coast, Northern California

Fort Bragg, California, USA

Northern California becomes pleasant after the heavy rains of the winter months. The scenic coastal trails offer both wildflowers, wildlife and panoramic views. The Mendocino Coast is not that far from San Francisco and makes for a nice weekend getaway. You find plenty of accommodation in Mendocino or Fort Bragg.

We visited Fort Bragg to see its famous Glass Beach (it’s overrated), but we loved the coastal trails there much more. Ka Kaleh Trail is an almost flat, easy, 6 miles roundtrip on the bluffs of Fort Bragg. Parking and trailhead is right south of Glass Beach, in the Noyo Headlands Park parking lot.

Located on a headland at the westernmost area of MacKerricher State Park, Laguna Point Boardwalk is a 1.5 miles loop trail through fields of grass, leading to an impressive coastal panorama.

Mendocino Headlands State Park, California, USA

We found Mendocino Headlands State Park especially impressive. The Mendocino Headlands Trail is about 4 miles (there and back), with picturesque rock formations and colorful flowers on the bluffs.

What to wear on the trails

Many easy coastal trails and beach walks don’t even require hiking clothes and gear, just a comfy pair of sneakers and some casual outdoors wear. Longer hikes on rugged terrain are better to complete in proper hiking boots though. We prefer the mid- or high ankle hiking boots – like this one for men, this one for women –, because they give more support and protection (consider rattlesnakes, too).

Some people like this kind of five-fingered hiking shoes, because they’re so lightweight and feel like walking barefoot – and they’re meant for California’s warm and dry climate.

A fleece jacket and a windbreaker (for men, for women) comes handy on coastal trails, especially in Northern California, but also in the Bay Area if it’s a windy or foggy day.

Don’t forget your sun hat and sunscreen!

And now it’s your turn!

Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, CA, USA

Even though we’ve hiked a lot in California, especially in Central California, we’re sure we missed a whole lot of amazing wildflower hikes. So what are your suggestions? Don’t hesitate to share them!

More seasonal hikes in California

We’ve started this series to show you the best California hikes throughout the year. Check out the best trails for late spring, summer, autumn and winter, as well.


Disclosure: Please note that we paid for the trip ourselves, but affiliate links are used in this post, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. This is how we pay our bills and keep our blog free for you to enjoy. 🙂

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)


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