Where to Spot the Season’s Best Wildflowers
Explore Arizona in search of spring’s brightest blooms.
By Carly Scholl
“There is nothing like a Southwestern spring,” says Angelica Elliott, Desert Botanical Garden’s program development manager. “And March is the month when the desert flora starts to come alive with color.” For wildflower enthusiasts in particular, now is the time to get out and explore—across the state, vibrant species are bursting from the ground to enjoy the beautiful weather.
“We need a good amount of precipitation for wildflowers to germinate, and it’s always tough to predict wildflower season due to different areas getting varying levels of rainfall,” explains Elliott. “But we’ve had ample rain come earlier than usual this year, so I think we should have a pretty good spring.”
Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, photographer and author of “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where & How”(Analemma Press), agrees, noting “We typically see annual and perennial flowers start to sprout in the Sonoran Desert in mid-February, especially in lower elevations such as Yuma and Tucson. By mid-March, peak bloom viewing occurs in areas around Tucson and Phoenix.” To find some of the best shows of wildflowers, Miniuk-Sperry and Elliott suggest hiking, walking or driving through the different mountain ranges surrounding the Valley, or even venturing further south to the sand dunes of Yuma. “As this year’s bloom season progresses, we’re keeping a close eye on Lost Dutchman State Park and the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction, Picacho Peak State Park near Eloy, and Saguaro National Park near Tucson to see what materializes in the weeks ahead,” says Miniuk-Sperry. “Closer to home, we’re watching the Go John, Lost Dog Wash and Pass Mountain trails.”
“There are so many places you can find these seasonal stunners—some in your own neighborhood—but it’s always fun to see different areas of the state,” Elliott notes. “Canyons, mountains and anywhere water accumulates, such as desert washes, are
great locations to spot wildflowers. They love well-draining sandy or rocky soil and open spaces where they get plenty of sun.”
Here, Elliott and Miniuk-Sperry take us on a tour around Arizona to find wildflowers with the most wow-factor.
Picacho Peak State Park
Though Mexican gold poppies are prolific throughout the state at this time of year, you’ll find a bounty of these cheerful flowers here, along with purple desert cosmos, Coulter’s lupine and California poppies.
Hike: Sutherland Trail
“One of my favorite spots in Tucson, Catalina Mountain State Park, is starting to show bursts of color,” explains Miniuk-Sperry. “Head to the moderately difficult Sutherland Trail to view Mexican gold poppies, lupine, fiddleneck, fairy duster, desert-chicory and more.”
Hike: Peralta Trail
“Find brittlebush, Coulter’s lupine, scorpionweed and desert marigold, among many others, on this moderate hike near the Superstition Mountains,” Elliott says.
Though you may be surprised to find life among the arid landscape of Yuma, Elliott knows where you can find some special species. “The dunes can be an optimal place to see spring wildflowers, particularly sand verbena, which blanket the whole landscape with beautiful purple blooms. Be on the lookout for dune evening primroses, too.”
South Mountain Park
This central Arizona preserve sees fiddleneck, wild heliotrope and blue dicks bloom along its trails.
“Annuals and perennials alike are already showing off in the natural areas west of Phoenix. Head to White Tank Mountain Regional Park to enjoy a mix of colors from Mexican and California gold poppies, lupine, scorpionweed, desert globemallow and brittlebush,” says Miniuk-Sperry. Elliott adds, “Further west in the Eagletail Mountains Wilderness you might be lucky enough to find the night-blooming desert lily, which loves the sandy soil found in this region, as well as a profusive carpet of magenta owl clover.”
Scenic Drive: Apache Junction to Superior to Globe
Elliott suggests taking a day drive from Apache Junction through Superior and on to Globe; along the way, you’re bound to spot some white tackstem, chuparosa and the ever-present Mexican gold poppy.
Hike: Lookout Mountain and Shaw Butte Trails
Miniuk-Sperry assures that you needn’t go too far out of your own backyard to find spectacular flora. “Poppies, lupine, scorpionweed, owl clover, desert globemallow and brittlebush are blooming on Lookout Mountain and Shaw Butte trails—two beautiful desert hikes near the Phoenix Mountains Preserve that offer urbanites a chance to escape the hustle-and-bustle of the city and see the wildflowers without giving up a whole day.”
Scenic Drive: Bartlett Lake
“Those looking for a picturesque drive should head to Bartlett Lake, specifically Service Road 459, where an observant petal-peeper can spot the rare albino white poppy blooming along the road among cream cups, chuparosa and blue dicks,” advises Miniuk-Sperry.