Best Early Spring Hikes In California

Every season is hiking season with unique beauties in California. 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 (we definitely don’t think of the Sierra Nevada which is mostly covered by snow even in April). Also, early spring is your last chance to see the lush green California. If you miss it, you have to wait until next winter as the landscape becomes rather brownish-yellowish than green by May, and it will remain so until the first winter rains.

So here are some ideas when and where to go wildflower hunting.

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Half Moon Bay, California, USA

When Southern California’s deserts are in bloom…

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.

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

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Wildflowers in California

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.

Death Valley National Park

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. If we would be there that year and that time though… It could be such a unique experience!

Poppy paradise on the coast: Big Sur, Central California

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Big Sur, California, USA

February and March is the usual time for wildflower bloom on California’s ocean coast. The lush green hills become rather vivid orange at some places as millions of California poppies are in bloom. Big Sur was one of our favorite coastal hiking place, anyway, and it didn’t disappoint with its wildflowers either. Andrew Molera State Park or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park have charming shorter and longer hikes, but any of the coastal bluff trails could also be a good choice for a beautiful wildflower walk.

Hikes that we loved
Short hike: Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
Day hike: Andrew Molera Loop (Beach Trail – Bluffs Trail – Panorama Trail – Ridge Trail)

Mount Diablo State Park, San Francisco Bay Area

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Mount Diablo State Park, California, USA

Hiking in Mount Diablo State Park in the beginning of March was our most beautiful and colorful wildflower hike in Central California! The variety of wildflowers there was amazing all the way during our hike to Mount Diablo Summit. It’s a steep hike but it rewarded us with a nice panorama – in addition to the wildflowers.

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Mount Diablo State Park, California, USA

Mt. Diablo Grand Loop 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

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, Central California

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, California, 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 it’s an excellent place for bird-watching. About 200 species of birds have been recorded in the marsh and more than 60 nest there, too – for example the Great Blue Heron.

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Pescadero State Beach, California, USA

Both spring and summer feature a broad spectrum of wildflowers in the marsh and on the beach bluff trail. Wildflowers have already been in bloom when we visited it at the beginning of March last year. And by the way, just walking on the beach is a lovely romantic addition for couples and sentimental dreamers.

Hikes that we loved
Short hikes: beach bluff trail, marsh trails (about 3 miles round-trip)

Half Moon Bay, Central California

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Half Moon Bay, California, USA

Half Moon Bay State Beach and the nearby beaches and coastal trails are often referred altogether as Half Moon Bay. They offer several shorter coastal trails, and the chance to see wildlife there is also pretty good. 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 south of Moss Beach. We’ve been there at the beginning of March and you better plan your visit in early spring, too, if you want to see a lot of flowers.

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Half Moon Bay, California, USA

Our favorite hidden gem in the area is Cowell Ranch State Beach which is accessible by a short trail. It’s very well hidden but Google Maps has given 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.

Best Early Spring Hikes In California: Half Moon Bay, California, USA

The beach itself is north of the bluff trail and 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).

Hikes that we loved
Beach walks:

  • Maverick’s Beach
  • Half Moon Bay State Beach
Short hikes: 

  • Pillar Point Bluff Trail
  • Moss Beach Bluff Trail (north of Moss Beach Distillery)
  • short trail to Cowell Ranch State Beach

What to wear

Here comes our suggestions to make your spring hikes in California more comfortable:

  • A pair of comfortable hiking boots: that’s the most important thing when you go hiking! We prefer those types that support our ankles, too – like this one for men, this one for women -, but the downside is that they are a bit heavier, too. Well, to each his own (and we are strong, anyway 😀 ). Since it rarely rains in California, and most of that rain falls in the winter months, it’s not absolutely necessary to have waterproof hiking boots in spring. But if you want to use them elsewhere and in the winter, too, it’s still practical if they are waterproof.
  • Five fingers hiking shoes: some really likes these because they are so lightweight. If you don’t want heavy boots, California with its warm and dry climate is probably among the best places to give these five fingers a chance.
  • Windbreaker: no matter the season, the ocean coast can be quite windy. An easily packable windbreaker is always useful, and if it’s waterproof, as well, even better.
  • Cap: even though we always use sunscreen on our hikes, we like protecting our head and face from the sun by wearing a cap
  • Compact picnic blanket: it’s nice to stop for a picnic in pleasant weather. This waterproof, sandproof and windproof picnic blanket fits into your pocket, so you get comfort for almost free – and by this I mean the weight you carry and the space you need, because those are the prices you pay for each item you choose to take with you on the trail.
  • Trekking poles: some of these terrains are easier, some are more challenging, but none of them are flat. Trekking poles can help reduce the strain on your knees, especially when walking downhill. They also improve your balance when hiking on rough terrain or crossing a wild mountain stream.
  • Hiking socks: any kind of comfy socks, because you need to spoil your feet when hiking. 🙂 Merino wool is a good material because it keeps your feet warm and fresh, you can benefit from it both in cold and warm weather.

Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, CA, USA

And now it’s your turn!

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 away!

More seasonal hikes in California

We’ve started this series to show you our favorite California hikes for all the seasons. You can get ideas for the best late spring, summerautumn and winter hikes, too.

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