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California Poppy Reserve

Every spring the hills of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve come alive with the sound of music. Well, not really. But when you see the splashes of intense oranges and vibrant yellows, you may just get the urge to sing.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

This flower power show of colors is so remarkable, you can even catch glimpses of it from the sky from your airplane window as you fly overhead.

Every year starting around mid-February and sometimes lasting through May, wildflowers bloom in all their glory offering a colorful show you won’t want to miss. Here is your guide to experiencing the poppy explosion at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. 

Flowers

The flowers. It is the seasonal bloom of flowers that really makes Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve State Park a destination. People near and far come to flood the area just to see this wonderful, natural sight. Let me tell you about the flowers. 

Every year is slightly different since Mother Nature is in control. Typically the flowers begin to bloom in the early spring, usually in the month of March (sometimes a bit earlier) and the last blooms stay all the way through May. The absolute best time to come is around mid-April. If you want to guarantee the poppies to be open, look for a day where the temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit with wind gusts not stronger than 10 mph.   

Besides the symbolic orange poppies, other wildflowers to look for are filarees, fiddlenecks, silver puffs, pygmy-leaved lupines, bush lupines, slender keel fruits, forget-me-nots, fringe pods, wild onions, red maids, sun cups, gold fields, owl’s clovers, hairy lotuses, cream cups and rattlesnake weeds. Now that is a lot of flowers! 

Hiking 

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve State Park has eight miles of dedicated trails that weave throughout the gentle rolling hills of the area. From these hiking trails you can get a close up encounter with the fragrant blossoms of the poppies and other wildflowers as they bloom. There are also benches sprinkled throughout the path to relax on as well as a paved portion perfect for strollers, smaller walkers, and wheelchair access. 

  • Combine the North Loop trail, the Antelope Butte trail and the Lightning Bolt Loop. This hike is moderately rated in difficulty, less than 4 miles in length with only a 500 feet elevation gain. The trek leads you up and down the hills with a high point vista that overlooks the high desert where you can take in the landscape and surrounding communities. 
  • If you wish to see the entirety of the park, try hiking the full Antelope Loop Trail. The 6-mile hike combines two primary loops and includes many hilltop viewing areas of the flowers and valley below. It is an easy to moderate rated hike and the elevation gain is just shy of 600 feet in total.

When hiking through the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve State Park make sure you come prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen. The high desert landscape is exposed with windy, hot, dry days. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as meadowlarks, sun bathing lizards, and harmless gopher snakes. Coyotes and bobcats are also known to roam the area. Smaller critters such as shelter mice, gophers, kangaroo rats, beetles, and even scorpions create burrows along the trails. So watch your step!

The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center

Open March 1st through Mother’s Day, the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center is located right in the heart of the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. This interpretive center has wonderful wildflower and wildlife exhibits that show the beauty and history of the native landscape. Make sure you stop by the gift shop for a souvenir where all the proceeds go back into the protection of the park. There is also an orientation video with more details about what there is to explore within the park. 

The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center is named after the late Jane S. Pinheiro. Jane was a dedicated conservationist who worked to make the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve what it is today. Now you can see her watercolor paintings of the poppies on display at the center. 

Places to Eat

Want to make a day trip out of it? Here are some great local spots to grab some grub near the park.

  • Azteca Mexican Restaurant: This family owned joint is a hidden gem. The menu includes delish Mexican fare such as a vibrant fiesta platter, enchiladas, and spicy albondigas soup. Address: 47904 90th St W, Lancaster, CA 93536
  • Crazy Otto’s: Opened in the early 1970s this diner has kept true to its lumberjack fare. Breakfast specials include items such as country fried steak and eggs, and bacon and chicken liver omelets. Address: 1228 West Avenue I, Lancaster, CA 93534
  • The Rock Inn: Located in a stone building from 1929 is this laid back tavern. The menu is hearty with Philly cheesesteak hot sandwiches, 10 oz. rib eye steaks, and tuna melts. Address: 17539 Elizabeth Lake Rd, Lake Hughes, CA 93532

Before You Go 

  • There is a $10 day use fee for the park. You can pay with debit or credit credit card. If you pay in cash, bring the exact dollar amount. 
  • Your entry ticket is valid for entry on the same day to any other California State Park charging the same or lower rates.  And if you are camping at a State Park that receipt is also valid for entry to any other California State Park the next day.
  • Park hours are 8am to 5pm.
  • Parking is extremely limited so try coming early or close to closing. Another option to beat the crowds is to come for a mid week hike. 
  • Although we love our fur babies, dogs are not allowed at the reserve. 
  • Protect the beauty of this special place by not picking any flowers and leaving your drones at home. 
  • Can’t make it to the reserve in person? Check out the live PoppyCam.

The Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve really is a special place. Although it holds its beauty throughout the year, going during the spring bloom is definitely recommended. Remember to practice leave no trace principles by staying on the trails even though you may want that epic social media shot. Also take only pictures with no picking of these special flowers. 

Happy adventures! 


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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus