Standing before a field carpeted with flowers can be awe inspiring. Unfortunately, the more photogenic and accessible that field is, the more you’ll have to share the moment with strangers. So popular was this year’s poppy “super bloom” in Lake Elsinore, California, about 90 minutes from Los Angeles, the town had to be temporarily shut down after the Instagram mob descended. Still, there are plenty of other places in California and beyond to catch a riot of spring and summer colors—without destroying nature in the process. Here’s where to find five of the world’s most popular blooms in abundance, plus more off-the-beaten-path suggestions for wildflower viewing. Just remember: Look but don’t touch.
If you’re searching for specific blooms
Wooden shoes aside, there is nothing more synonymous with Holland than tulips. Though you may spot a thousand bouquets at the country’s outdoor markets, the best place to see peak tulip pageantry is at Keukenhof park in Lisse, about a half hour from Amsterdam. From late March to mid-May, seven million bulbs bloom across Keukenhof’s 79 acres, including 800 varieties of tulip. Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and lilies add to this coat of many colors. To learn about the history of the coveted tulip, stop by the “Tulipomania” exhibition at Keukenhof’s Juliana Pavilion or hire a professional guide for a five-hour garden tour (includes round-trip transportation from Amsterdam). For thinner crowds, go on a weekday or before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
If you’re staying stateside, the annual Tulip Time festival takes over the aptly named Holland, Michigan, from May 4 through 12, 2019. In this window, the town hosts Dutch American dances, a carnival, a craft fair, and a marathon. But the biggest draw: millions of tulips planted downtown and throughout city parks. The finest displays can be found at Windmill Island Gardens and Veldheer tulip farm.
From March through July, the Dordogne region of southwest France is blanketed with nearly 50 varieties of wild orchid. Fly, pyramidal, and bird’s nest are the most common types, with colors ranging from hot pink to creamy white to delicate scallion green. While some flowers can be spotted on the sides of highways, the best way to see them in all their floral glory is on foot or via a leisurely horseback ride. The Vézère Valley has 420 miles of marked trails winding through forest and meadow. English-language maps for select routes are sold at the Vézère tourism information desks in Les Eyzies, Le Bugue, Rouffignac, Limeuil, and Montignac.
A field of towering sunflowers is a shot of pure sunshine. And although the seeds were first commercially cultivated in Russia, the plant is actually native to North America. Now, sunflower farms abound in the United States, especially southern states like Georgia. At the Anderson’s Sunflower Farm in Cumming, Georgia, payday hits in July and lasts only two weeks. Here, you can wander the fields with a camera in hand—or a pair of gardening shears. (Visitors are welcome to pick their own sunflowers or buy a half-dozen or dozen already cut.)
During the annual Sunflower Festival (June 14–July 6) at Copper Creek Farm in Calhoun, an hour east, visitors stroll through fields brimming with thousands of enormous, mood-boosting sunflowers. It’s a big community affair, too, complete with hayrides, duck and pig races, steer roping, and a kiddie zip line. Tack $7 onto the admission if you want to leave with a souvenir bucket of cut sunflowers. The family-run Fausett Farms in Dawsonville, meanwhile, is lower key: 13 acres of sunflowers, sans the animated chicken shows and mechanical bull. Fausett’s blooms also peak later in the season; its sunflower fields don’t open to the public until September.
The world’s most famous lavender fields are in Provence, France, but they’re hardly the only ones. From South Africa to South Korea, our global obsession with this purple plant runs deep. (Makes sense: The versatile perennial is used to fend off mosquitoes, treat skin inflammation, scent underwear drawers, and flavor ice cream.) The charming village of Tihany on the Tihany Peninsula in Hungary is home to some of the lushest lavender fields in Europe; the frenzy of color usually erupts at the Lake Balaton plantation in July, give or take a month. This amethyst crush is accompanied by hundreds of darting butterflies. Head to the Lavender House Visitor Centre at the eastern gate of the Bakony-Balaton Geopark to get oriented and learn why the area’s volcanic soil is suited for growing lavender. Tip: The visitor center gift shop sells apothecary goods made with locally harvested blooms.
You can often find these sugary pink, magenta, and pomegranate flowers blooming wild in Minnesota, Maine, Wyoming, and New Hampshire, but they also pop up in the meadows and grasslands of more remote destinations—places like southern Alaska or Chilean Patagonia. Called chochos in the latter, the flowers can grow waist and even chest high. A perfect place to spot them is along Chile’s Route 7, aka the Carretera Austral highway, running 770 miles from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. They also flourish along the banks of the Rio el Canal and the brilliant blue Lago General Carrera. The shoulder-season month of November, headed into December, is prime time for flower viewing in this corner of the Southern Hemisphere.
If you’re wild for wildflowers
Crested Butte, Colorado
While wildflowers start popping up in Colorado’s eastern plains in April and May, the western Rockies won’t see the ultimate explosion of petals until June, July, and August. Crested Butte, a small ski town about four hours southwest of Denver, is so blessed with stupendous mountain blooms, it has been nicknamed the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. It even has its own festival, the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival (July 5–14, 2019), now in its 33rd year. The programming includes wildflower hikes, art workshops, photography classes, garden tours, and lectures on medicinal wildflowers. Free printed guides point flower fanatics to the best trails, while offering an assist with blossom identification. Expect pretty-in-pink parry’s primrose, lolling bluebells, coral-colored Indian paintbrush, silvery-purple lupine, orange sneezeweed, and sunshiney sunflowers.
When it comes to wildflower tourism, much of Japan peaks in April. That’s when the season of sakura, or cherry blossoms, hits its fever pitch and the famous purple “Wisteria Tunnel” at Kawachi Fujien Garden in Kitakyushu racks up the most likes on social. One flower that receives considerably less attention, however, is the humble Kyushu azalea, or miyamakirishima, which grows in wild abundance on the volcanic plateaus of Kyushu Island. The alpine plant is a member of the rhododendron family and produces similar pinkish-reddish-purplish flowers. Hikers encounter a surfeit of azaleas on foot, but luxe properties like Hoshino Resorts’s KAI Aso in Oita can also arrange a guided viewing on horseback. Bonus: Because Kyushu azaleas hit their zenith between mid-May and early June, travelers may avoid some of the typical cherry blossom–seeking crowds (and accompanying price gouging).
The Dolomites, Italy
Edelweiss, poppies, gentians, saxifrages, forget-me-nots—these are a handful of the storybook flora hikers may encounter when trekking in the Italian Alps. From late April onward, the grassy knolls around Cortina, aka the Pearl of the Dolomites, spring to life. Fluttery alpine snowbells appear shortly after snowmelt, which at higher altitudes can be as late as June. At the peak of summer (mid-July to mid-August), visitors might glimpse rare silvery cranesbill (a type of geranium), and Campanula morettiana (endemic to northern Italy) also make their debut around this time, brightening up protected lands within the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park.
For the ultimate wildflower-viewing experience, book Italy Tours in Nature’s eight-day, naturist-led Flora of the Dolomites trip (June 4–12, 2019), which includes visits to the beauteous Monte Faverghera and Cansiglio botanical gardens, a challenging six-hour bud-spotting crawl along the Tre Clime di Lavaredo, and a walk through the Alpe di Siusi, a flower-filled meadow at an elevation of 6,562 feet. Alternatively, pick up a copy of Gillian Price’s Walking in the Dolomites and go it alone. The well-regarded guidebook covers 25 multi-day routes, including many that wend through the mountains’ showiest quarters.
Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia
More than 12,000 wildflower species—60 percent of them endemic—have been identified in Western Australia, a swathe of land that covers 1 million square miles. You could spend all summer exploring fields cloaked with daisies and footpaths lined with native roses—or you could head to 815,160-acre Fitzgerald River National Park. A core part of the UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere Reserve, it is located in the shires of Jerramungup and Ravensthorpe, on the territory’s southern coast.
Along with 22 species of mammal and 200 species of bird, around 1,800 species of flowering plant thrive here, making it one of the largest and most botanically diverse regions on the planet. Of those flowering plants, 250 are considered rare and 62 are known to only grow within the confines of the park. These include scarlet banksia, royal hakea, qualup bell, and unusual varieties of eucalyptus and bottlebrush. The Fitzgerald is carved into two recreational nuclei; the rest is protected wilderness, closed to traffic. To stay as close to the flowers as possible, book a solar-powered, self-catering chalet or cabin at the 40-acre Quaalup Homestead Wilderness Retreat, in the western part of the park near Bremer Bay.
Valley of Flowers National Park, India
In the winter months, this UNESCO-protected national park in North Chamoli, about 300 miles northeast of New Delhi, is blanketed in snow and ice. But after it thaws, look out—this little corner of the western Himalayas could pass for a Monet painting. Uttarakhand’s premiere alpine flower destination sits just west of the rugged Nanda Devi National Park and almost 11,000 feet above the sea. Together they form part of the 552,710-acre Nandi Devi Biosphere Reserve. Botanists have been trekking to the Valley of Flowers for decades, studying its myriad buds—498 species of flowering plants, at last count. Long before that, yogis and poets made the epic pilgrimage. The closest airport is in Jolly Grant, 183 miles away; the nearest railway is in Rishikesh, 171 miles away. Govind Ghat is the most accessible town via road, but even from there you still have to hike 9.5 miles on foot to reach the Valley. Why bother? In July and August, the breathtaking mountain landscape is painted with orchids, poppies, marigolds, daisies, anemones, and golden lilies. Such a spectacular show, staged anywhere less remote, would surely be ruined by overtourism.