There Could Be a Super Bloom in California in 2023—Here’s How to See It

After a record-breaking winter of rainfall, California could experience one of the most stunning super blooms in years.

A "super bloom" of California poppies outside of Lake Elsinore

Super blooms—they’re one of California’s favorite natural phenomena.

Photo by Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

The southern Sierra Nevada’s snowpack is up 230 percent above average this season and the northern Sierra Nevada’s snowpack received the most precipitation this winter that it’s ever gotten in recorded history. Downtown Los Angeles experienced the wettest January it’s had since 2017 with 8.95 inches of rainfall and the San Francisco–Oakland metropolitan area was soaked with 13.34 inches in December and January alone. All that precipitation provided some relief to the drought-stricken Golden State, but it could also herald the coming of one of the most hotly anticipated natural phenomena in California: the super bloom.

What is a super bloom?

California is famous for its native wildflowers that blossom each year—lookie-loos might spy irises, sky lupines, blue bells, dessert lilies, and arguably the most famous and the state’s official flower, the California poppy. Super blooms, however, are the stuff of legend. They occur when a high concentration of wildflower seeds that have been dormant in California’s deserts for a few years because of inadequate rainfall bloom to life after an unusually bountiful rainy season. There is no real scientific definition for what constitutes a super bloom. Rather, the idea of a super bloom is a cultural one—a very popular one at that.

The conditions that can foster a super bloom are very finicky and delicate. But, when all the conditions for a super bloom are met, the effect is breathtaking with larkspur, poppies, and clover blowing in the breeze. This year, though there are still a lot of factors that need to happen in order for a super bloom to occur, already sprouts are peeking up through the ground in places, so chances seem good.

A field of California poppies on the California coast near Mendocino

The California poppy is the state’s official flower and one of the most popular wildflowers to spot during the spring.

Photo by Bob Pool/Shutterstock

When to see a super bloom

Super blooms do not occur annually—they are a rare phenomenon that usually happen only once every 10 to 15 years. However, the last two super blooms in California blossomed to fruition in 2017 and 2019 (nature is nothing if not random at times).

Typically, super bloom season occurs roughly from February through May (the same time wildflower season would normally happen), often peaking in mid-March. However, super bloom timing often varies by region:

  • The Central Coast – mid-March to mid-April
  • Los Angeles County – mid-March to early April
  • The Mojave – April and May
  • The Sierra foothills – mid-March through late April
  • The Bay Area – late April to mid-June
  • The High Sierras – June and July

During the few months that super blooms last in California, people from all over the state—and really, the country—travel to see the colorful blossoms. In 2019, some locations, such as Lake Elsinore, experienced as many as 100,000 visitors in a single weekend.

A bloom of California buckwheat in Alviso Marsh

California is home to over 6,500 native plants and wildflowers.

Photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

How to see a super bloom

Botanist Karen Wiese told Visit California that she recommends that flower viewers bring a wildflower guide so they know what they are looking at. She also advises bringing a handheld magnifying lens with 10x magnification to better see the colors, patterns, and features of the blooms. A hat and sunscreen, bug repellent, sturdy hiking shoes, water, and a lightweight poncho are all also recommended given how hot California’s deserts can get.

It should go without saying that visitors should remain on trails, take their trash with them, and not pick any wildflowers. In 2019, so many people visited remote areas of California that the event was dubbed the “Super Bloom Apocalypse” and one town, Lake Elsinore, has preemptively banned travelers from visiting during wildflower season this year by blocking off the canyon where the poppies grow and nearby parking areas. If you’re interested in a guided experience, the California Native Plant Society has High Sierra chapters that offer expert-led walks and field trips.

Joshua Tree National Park during a super bloom.

Joshua Tree National Park also occasionally experiences super blooms.

Photo by Patrick Jennings/Shutterstock

Where can I see a super bloom?

Super blooms typically occur in regions that have received ample rainfall the previous winter. This year, since practically the whole state received above-average rainfall, super blooms might crop up throughout California. These are three of the most popular places to view super bloom wildflowers:

Antelope Valley California Poppy State Natural Reserve

Located in northern Los Angeles county about 70 miles north of downtown in the Mojave Desert, the Antelope Valley California Poppy State Natural Reserve consistently comes alive with millions of golden poppy blossoms each spring—in fact, it’s your best bet if you’re dying to see a wild poppy bloom of any size. The park has eight miles of hiking trails that meander through its grasslands and several picnic tables with views that overlook the San Gabriel Mountains. In addition to other wildflowers like cream cups, goldfields, and owl’s clover, visitors might also spot (if they’re lucky) wildlife like coyotes, meadowlarks, and kangaroo rats.

Joshua Tree National Park

One of the state’s most visited national parks, Joshua Tree is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles. Here, visitors can find wildflower classics like the golden poppy, but also gorgeous desert blossoms like prickly pear blooms, evening primroses, Mojave asters, and desert paintbrushes. Blooms at lower elevations typically begin popping up in February and March, while flowers in higher elevations might not appear until June.

Mount Diablo State Park

Sitting a pretty 3,849 feet above sea level, Mount Diablo typically gets blooms around March and April. At Mount Diablo, guests can expect to see flowers like woodland stars, sticky monkey flowers, and yarrow. The Mitchell Rock, North Peak, and Camel Rock trails are all popular routes for viewing wildflowers.

Mae Hamilton is an assistant editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.