I’ve wanted to see the elusive California poppy fields at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve for years. I’ve long envied the glorious photos of bright orange blooms blanketing the hillsides and wanted to see this fantastic display of nature in person. The trick is in the timing.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve usually opens in mid-March and stays open through the end of the wildflower season. But knowing when the poppies will reach their peak – when the largest numbers will be in bloom – is tricky. And getting any kind of prediction ahead of time is no easy task. Even the Reserve’s Wildflower Hotline hasn’t been updated since the Reserve opened a month ago!
That’s all thanks to nature, of course. The intensity and duration of the wildflower season varies from one year to the next. Even more frustrating is that the weather on any specific day will also affect how the poppies appear. For instance a cold, windy day means normally full blooms will curl up.
Even after our visit, I have no idea if the poppies have peaked (or when they will), but I can tell you this: If you get the opportunity to do so, go!
WHY IT’S GREAT FOR NATURE LOVERS
Okay, so this one is a no brainer. You visit this place because of the amazing wildflowers. I mean, come on, look at them:
We also spotted a western fence lizard:
this big beetle,
a ton of ants very busy about something,
and although I didn’t get a picture, I finally saw a California Quail.
The 1,800-acre State Reserve was created to protect and perpetuate amazing displays of native wildflowers, particularly California’s state flower, the California poppy.
Other wildflowers that make their appearance here each spring include owl’s clover, lupine, goldfields, cream cups and coreopsis.
There are seven miles of trails winding through the fields – including a paved section for wheelchair access – making it very easy to feel like you’re among the wildflowers without actually trampling them. That’s important since stepping on the poppies can kill them.
WHAT WE LIKED
I’ll admit I was a bit worried that the kiddos wouldn’t find this place anywhere near as exciting as I hoped I would. But once again, they surprised me.
In an attempt to bill the day as something extra special (we did just get back from Hawaii after all!), I told the big explorer before we left that we were headed out on a nature adventure. But I wouldn’t say more.
The 1 ½ drive from Los Angeles to Lancaster was half the fun for him; he spent most of it trying to figure out where we were headed. As the terrain outside the car window began to change, he was hooked. And by the time he caught his first glimpse of poppy fields ablaze with the bright orange poppies, he was sold.
We started our visit with a look inside the small interpretive center, where the kids loved the displays of the wildlife that call the Reserve home.
Their fascination with the stuffed animals gave the hubby and I the opportunity to lay down some ground rules for our visit: Don’t touch the poppies. Don’t walk on the flowers. And stay close together on the trail. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.
We headed out along the one paved trail through the wildflowers since it was a gentle slope and seemed to offer some great vantage points. We had the little explorer in the stroller and were able to continue on the dirt trail after the paving ended. Since the trail was relatively smooth, we had no problem maneuvering the stroller.
We stayed on the trail meandering along stopping to look at bugs, take pictures or embrace the wind. We didn’t have a specific destination in mind, so when the little explorer said he wanted out of the stroller, we set him loose and made our way back to the interpretive center.
Unlike the big explorer, the little guy seems to have a fearless love of nature. He took off running down the trail, stopping only when we’d point out a lizard or something else worth checking out.
He also did a great job of resisting the urge to pluck a poppy. Thank God!
All told, we were at the Reserve for about 1 ½ hours. Both of the boys were engaged the entire time and were only lured back into the car with the promise of lunch. A big hit! I hope we’ll be back to visit many more times in the future.
- Open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends from mid-March through the end of the wildflower season (end of May)
- Peak wildflower season is unpredictable, but usually occurs some time in mid-April
- Parking is $8
- The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center houses educational displays of Reserve plants & wildlife, a short video and a gift shop
- There is one set of flush toilets (and changing stations) alongside the Interpretive Center & another set of porta-potties in the upper parking lot
- No food is available for purchase within the Reserve, but shaded picnic tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis outside the Interpretive Center
- Trails are flat and well-maintained making strollers easy to navigate
MY TIPS FOR A GREAT VISIT
- Be prepared for the weather. This is the high desert where it can get windy and cold. Plus, the weather can turn on a dime. Dress in layers and bring jackets.
- Beat the crowds by arriving early. We got to the Reserve at 10:15 a.m. on a Saturday and didn’t have much of a line ahead of us to enter the parking area. When we left a little past noon, the upper and lower parking areas looked full and the line of cars waiting to get in was painfully long.
- Bring your own snacks (or picnic). Food will save you if your kiddos turn cranky out on the trail. And a picnic in these surroundings is almost a must. If the weather turns sour, you can always enjoy it in the car!
- Time your visit to catch a sunset. This isn’t something our schedule allowed, but I imagine the scene at the Reserve at dusk would be stunning.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is located at:
15101 Lancaster Road
Lancaster, CA 93534
Directions to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve