Southern California might not experience the four seasons like other parts of the country, but spring can be a charming time, especially if the region gets a good dose of rain during the winter.
That was the case this year, as California recovers from a five-year drought, and it’s got lots of people flocking to enjoy wildflowers that haven’t been this vibrant in some time.
One place to indulge in the region’s dynamic season is the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, a city about an hour north of Los Angeles. It’s a place I’d been wanting to visit for over a year, but I’m glad I came out this spring rather than last year because there’s more to see this time around.
The reserve is managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (also known as California State Parks) and it’s where you can find the state’s most consistent blooms of California poppies.
Although poppies are the main flower, there are others around as well, including goldfields and lacy phacelias.
There is a $10 fee to park in the lot beyond the gates, which I was happy to pay to support California State Parks 🙂
I arrived at the reserve on a Saturday morning a little after it opened at 9 a.m. I was glad to have come early because in about an hour, the entire lot was packed. Cars ended up parking along Lancaster Road, where the entrance to the reserve is located, and people just walked to the fields from their cars. (If you don’t want to pay $10, you can park on Lancaster Road and walk in for free.)
One thing to keep in mind is that poppies need sunlight to open up, so it could be better to arrive in the afternoon. Or, if you get there in the morning, it might be worthwhile to stay for a couple of hours until they do open up.
To get to the poppies, you’ll have to walk along a dirt trail. There are a couple you can choose from and none are too long or strenuous. My friends and I just chose a trail that went toward a vibrant orange field and we were happy to see so many bright flowers everywhere.
One of the rules at the reserve is that you’re not supposed to go off the trail. Walking onto the poppies crushes them and you could get a ticket. Still, a lot of people – including me – walked into the fields for photos. I justified doing this by opting to only walk on places where there was bare dirt, but I later learned that just adds to the damage :/ Next time I visit, I plan to avoid stepping out into the field and take photos without damaging the field. (P.S. There are other rules, too, like no drones and no pets – except for service animals. A complete list of rules can be found here.)
If you want to enjoy poppies and other flowers without going into the reserve, an option I’d suggest is to pull over on the side of Lancaster Road. It’s free to park and you can find patches of radiant orange poppies and other flowers. That’s something my friends and I did after going to the reserve, and there were less people around. The downside is that there can be a lot more bare dirt since people are able to walk on the flowers more freely than at the reserve.
If you’re reading this and it’s currently spring, and if you’re in the area, I’d recommend adding this to your list of things to see before the season ends. Be sure to check the reserve’s website for the most up-to-date information. If not – keep it on your calendar for next spring. You’ll be glad you went 🙂