Purple lupine in bloom. Credit: Cathy Romero

We’re hiking into wildflower season, and that leads to a question: Will there be a 2023 super bloom?

I saw some small blooms start to pop up in early- to mid-February, in places ranging from the western Coachella Valley floor (elevation 500-1,200 feet) to nearby hills around 3,600 feet in elevation.

Depending on the combination of rainfall, sun and temperatures, desert wildflowers generally begin blooming around mid-February through March in the lower elevations of the Coachella Valley and the desert floor. A few weeks later, we may see more blooms in the western end of the valley, where the elevation is higher, and temperatures are cooler. Mid-to-late-April is the peak time to visit places like the Whitewater Preserve and Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, where yucca blooms, hedgehog and beavertail blooms can be found.

According to DesertUSA, spring-blooming periods at elevations of 1,000 to 3,000 feet for yuccas are in March and April; annuals, February through April; cacti, March through May. At elevations of 3,000-5,000 feet, Joshua trees and yuccas may bloom in March and April; annuals, March through May; cacti, April through June.

Then there are super blooms, which usually occur every 10-15 years, although 2017 and 2019 proved the phenomenon can happen at any time.

However, a 2023 super bloom is already under way in Walker Canyon, near Lake Elsinore, with hillsides of stunning bright orange poppies, the state flower of California, about an 80-minute drive away from the Coachella Valley. However, don’t get in your car just yet: Lake Elsinore and Riverside County have closed Walker Canyon to keep residents safe and the land preserved, after crowds got out of control in 2019.

Another popular area for flourishing, beautiful wildflowers is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in Borrego Springs. It’s the largest state park in California, and one of the best places in the world to see breathtaking blooming wildflowers—as early as January, if the conditions are right, according to an article by Ashlyn Davis at SecretLosAngeles.com. Such was indeed the case this January, as purple sand verbena, yellow desert sunflowers, white evening primroses and other beautiful plant species had already blanketed the area.

Will it get even better in March to mid-April, which is usually the perfect time to see the blooms? Get the latest updates on wildflower blooms, safety and weather conditions before starting your journey by following the local news or by checking the park’s website. There are endless hiking trails in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, as well as camping options. Additionally, there are about 130 metal-sculpture installations to discover while in Borrego Springs!

Within the Bajada Nature Trail loop, we saw a great mix of purple desert lupine, Mexican yellow poppies, desert dandelion, brown-eyed primrose, chia, phacelia and purple mat.

A couple friends and I recently took a drive out beyond the east valley to see what wildflowers, if any, we would find. We ended up at the Bajada Nature Trail, near Chiriaco Summit; it is a half-mile, flat, easy and wheelchair-accessible trail (dogs are not allowed) located on the east side of Cottonwood Springs Road, just off Interstate 10 near the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. After passing by hundreds of blooming brittlebushes along Interstate 10, we came upon a beautiful display of purple desert lupine alongside Cottonwood Springs Road. Then, within the Bajada Nature Trail loop, we saw a great mix of purple desert lupine, Mexican yellow poppies, desert dandelion, brown-eyed primrose, chia, phacelia and purple mat. It was an amazing sight to see.

To conclude our trip, as we were admiring the beautiful bloom, right before our eyes, a desert tortoise came strolling through a field of wildflowers!

All the flora and fauna were identified by my good friend Cathy Romero, a desert naturalist and formerly a docent for the Whitewater Preserve. After we spotted the desert tortoise, she paused for a moment, then exclaimed: “I’ve been here in the desert for more than 24 years, and this is the first time I’ve actually seen a desert tortoise out in the wild!” Romero was a most amazing trail guide for the day—and what an amazing day it was!

Several local events celebrate wildflower season. In Palm Desert, Wildflower Week kicks off at 8 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, with the Friends of the Desert Mountains Wildflower 5K Trail Fun Run/Walk on the Randall Henderson Tail, located at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center along Highway 74. All ages are welcome; register online here. This family-friendly event is all about experiencing nature at its best, with beautiful spring wildflowers and breathtaking views of the mountains. No dogs or strollers are allowed on the trail.

Continue celebrating wildflower season at the annual Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 4, at the Civic Center Park in Palm Desert. This is a free and fun event for the whole family that celebrates wellness, recreation, safety and the outdoors, hosted by the city of Palm Desert and Friends of the Desert Mountains. For more information, visit www.DesertMountains.org.

Theresa Sama is an outdoor enthusiast who writes the Independent’s hiking/outdoors column. She has been running and hiking the Coachella Valley desert trails for more than 10 years and enjoys sharing...

2 replies on “Hiking With T: Thanks to All the Rain, Desert Wildflowers Are in Full Bloom This Year”

  1. Thank you for the information. Today is March 11, 2023. Last Tuesday we saw lovely wildflowers in the Anza Borrego Desert. We would like to go to Cottonwood Creek this next week. Will Whitewater be open any time soon?

  2. Hi Nora, Glad to hear that you are getting out there and seeing some beautiful wildflowers. Anza Borrego is one of the best places around to see wildflowers. I hear there are blooms around Death Valley and Joshua Tree right now as well.

    I know that Whitewater Preserve was closed over the weekend and
    will be closed Tuesday 3/14 and Wednesday 3/15 due to more rain coming in this week and the high risk of flash flooding. Maybe check the website (wildlandconservancy.org) or Facebook page after the storm passes. My guess is that the wildflower scene in Whitewater will be most amazing by the end of March and during the month of April this year. 😉

Comments are closed.