The Southwest tends to evoke images of hot, dry mountainous land with tumbleweeds lightly blowing through empty canyons and stretches of land. However, anyone who has traveled to the Southwest knows that there is a time of year that bursts with life and color through even the most remote locations of the desert. Once the spring season is upon us, the desert terrain bursts into a canvas of colorful beauty as delicate desert wildflowers blanket the landscape. There are so many unique locations to experience spring blooms in the Southwest and each location is well worth a day trip to escape to partake in this visual feast of lavish colors and textures of spring. The progression of blooms varies throughout the spring and early summer months, as well as by location. Throughout March and early April, the majority of desert blooms are in full effect and the outdoor temperatures are still enjoyable. Pack your camera, charge your phone, grab your friends & family and plan your adventure. Here is our list of the best spots to see beautiful southwest spring blooms as well as the top wildflowers you are likely to see on your Southwest spring blooms adventure.
Mexican Gold Poppy: Known for its showy gold blooms, the Mexican poppy is found below elevations of 4,500 feet.
Desert Lupine: These violet-blue blooms are often seen growing amid Mexican poppy. They are found below 3,000 feet.
Cactus Blossom: Blooms can range in color from white, bright yellow, hot pink and purple.
Brittlebush: Incredible yellow blooms cover this desert shrub.
Desert Marigold: These yellow flowers are found below 5,000 feet, often along roadsides and slopes.
Firecracker Penstemon: At elevations from 3,000 to 11,000 feet, these red flowers are found throughout the West.
While a destination with “death” in the name doesn’t necessarily seem like a place to find bright colorful blooms, this desert valley located in east California overflows with color. Despite the dry, hot summer conditions in Death Valley, springtime often brings an overwhelming amount of luscious colorful wildflowers blooms. Just a little bit of winter rain can bring an abundance of life to Death Valley with mild temperatures in the 60-70’s during Mid-February to Mid-May and is the best time to explore the park and enjoy the wildflowers. The Peak Blooming Periods are Mid-February to Mid-April at lower elevations. Some of the best areas to see these gorgeous blooms are Jubilee Pass, Highway 190 near the Furnace Creek Inn, base of Daylight Pass. There are over 1000 plant species in Death Valley National Park, including 13 species of cactus and 23 endemics (plants that are known to grow only in the Death Valley region). Most of the plants are desert annuals and boast colors that range from white and yellow to purple, blue, red and bright magenta. Once you have arrived in Death Valley and begin your wildflower adventure keep an eye out for the stunning desert star, blazing star, desert gold, mimulus, encelia, poppies, verbena, evening primrose, phacelia, and various species of cacti.
Apache Trail + Superstition Mountains
The Superstition Mountains are located 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix and are known as a fantastic place to view the desert in bloom. The stunning mountains are known to be covered in Mexican Poppies and Lupine abound, particularly after a wet winter. Peralta Canyon on the Northeast side of the range also offers a fantastic overlook of the iconic landmark known as Weaver’s Needle which is known to be covered in bright spring blooms. You can hike or drive to enjoy these desert wildflower blooms, but be aware the access to the area is by gravel roads, which are fairly well maintained, but can be rough at times. In addition to these locations, there are dozens of terrific trails you can follow on the North side to explore the wildflowers, as well as picnic and camping areas. In addition to the Superstition Mountains, another great spot to view the full range of wildflower blooms is the immensely popular Apache Trail, which is located on Route 88 between Apache Junction and the Roosevelt Dam. The Apache Trail during the spring season is lush with roadside, poppy, lupine, creamcup, rock echeveria, penstemon, and brittle bush.
Saguaro National Park
As you continue your desert bloom wildflower journey make sure to add the Saguaro National Park to your itinerary. Saguaro National Park is located near Tucson and boasts over 165 miles of hiking trails, weaving among the largest concentration of saguaro cacti in the world. In early to late March, the wildflowers along the desert floor burst into bloom. In April or May, the saguaro themselves bloom revealing some of the most visually stunning cactus blossoms ranging in colors from bright yellow to hot pink. In addition to these blooms, the hiking trails of Saguaro National Park offer view of Silvery lupine, which is a violet, pea-like flowers are arranged in a showy spike. Richardson’s geranium, which are usually white to pink colored with purple veins and five petals. Firecracker penstemons, which are red flowers are found throughout the West at elevations from 3,000 to 11,000 feet. Purple white owl’s-clover which produce tall spikes of deep purple to white flowers and plenty of red baneberry’s have small white petals, showy stamens, and a rose-like fragrance; borne in a fluffy cluster. If you’re looking for a shorter trail to explore the gorgeous desert blooms, the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is a paved 8-mile loop in Saguaro National Park East in Tucson and offers great views and multiple hiking options.
Canyonlands + Arches National Park
The final spots on our list are the southeastern Utah neighbors of Canyonlands and Arches National Park. The wildflowers in this region are typically in bloom April through May and include some varieties of yucca, parsleys, and biscuitroots. Come May, keep an eye out for showy Hopi Blanket flower along with common sunflowers. One of the best trails for blooms is the Elephant Hill Trail in Canyonlands, while in Arches the hike down to Landscape Arch offers lots of color. There are some distinctive wildflowers found only in Arches or Canyonlands, but generally the same flowers can be seen in both parks. The state flower, sego lilies can be found in the area around the Wolfe Ranch structure near the Delicate Arch trail head. You can also experience the beautiful blooms of the claret cup cactus, larkspur and Utah penstemon if you explore the trail on the Delicate Arch viewpoint. Make sure you pack your camera or have enough room on your phone to snap photos of these gorgeous blooms during your trip. Seeing the Southwest desert in full bloom is truly an experience of a lifetime and can’t be replicated anywhere else.