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Best Bay Area Wildflower Hikes

Wet winters set the stage for colorful springs and if our winter’s abundant rainfall is any indication, the spring wildflower display will be worth of an Impressionist landscape! For their amazing colors and fragrances, wildflower hikes are a child’s dream day out. Expect to go “ooh” and “aah” at any of these parks between March and June when spring wildflower stretch their much-awaited appearance over several months and dot hills and meadows with all the colors of the rainbow.

San Francisco

Wildflowers in the city? Sure, just hike to any open space on top of a hill and see for yourself. Twin Peaks, Bernal Heights, Sutro Heights are all good spots to see the preciously temporary seasonal show. For an insider’s take on wildflowers, Nature in the City will lead a “Wild Flower Power Hike” in the Presidio on May 14 from 10am to 12.30 p.m.

More SF wildflower events:

Annual Poppy Celebration (4/12)

Story Time in Your National Park: Flower Fables (4/23)

Earth, Wind, and Flowers (4/30)

East Bay

The East Bay parks really shine in the spring and none more than Sunol Regional Wilderness in Sunol, location of a Spring Wildflower Festival on Saturday April 2, 2011 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy kid-friendly hikes (including a stroller hike) as well as a special bugs and flowers program for little ones, arts and crafts, face painting, henna body art, games, and music.

In Antioch, plan at least one visit at Black Diamond Mines before June to visit a park whose grassy hills hide sand and coal mines, ghost town sites, as well as a pioneer cemetery. Stop at the Visitor Center to show live snakes to your toddlers before heading to the Upper Parking lot where you can follow the main trail to the opening of the Eureka Slope. This 0.25 mile hike includes a set of stairs, gorgeous views on the hills and picnic tables for a lunch or snack stop. For longer hikes, ask the rangers about the Rose Hill Cemetery.

Another East Bay park sure to please your wildflower enthusiasts is Briones Regional Park in Walnut Creek where Lafayette Ridge trail has wildflowers along a moderate uphill trail.

Of course, no East Bay wildflower exploration would be complete without the queen of wildflower explorations, Mount Diablo State Park. Popular wildflower trails are Mitchell Canyon, Falls Trail, Back Trail and Summit and Fire Trail. Click here to find the schedule of hikes organized by docent at Mount Diablo.

East Bay wildflower events:

Ardenwood Historic Farm (4/3)

Redwood Park (4/10).

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve (4/24)

Marin

North of the Golden Gate, Mount Tamalpais State Park draws crowds to hike its aerial trails and view its spectacular wildflower displays from March to June. The Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association organizes weekly hikes, including easy hikes under 2 miles on Sundays that are family-friendly. Wildflower hikes are scheduled in March 27 (Pantoll), April 10 (Rock Spring), and May 15 (Rock Spring). Click here to view the Sunday schedule and choose your next Mount Tam adventure!

Just north on the coast, the family favorite Point Reyes National Seashore is home to incredible wildflower shows on coastal bluffs just above the majestic Pacific Ocean. What more can you ask? Chimney Rock, at the southern tip of the Peninsula, is the wildflower hot spot that combines a short 1.6 mile trail with (generally) good weather and the proximity to the Point Reyes Lighthouse where you can grab binoculars and scan for gray whales. Abbotts Lagoon is another great spot for wildflowers with a 2.3 mile out-and-back hike along the lagoon, abundant wildflowers and a relaxed bucolic mood.

Wildflowers of the Coast Range (4/23)

Springtime Splendor in the Headlands (5/7)

The Wonderful World of the Butterfly (5/14)

Peninsula

At the edge of San Francisco, San Bruno Mountain State and County Park is a fantastic city escape with flowers on both sides of Summit Trail, a moderate 3.1 mile hike that culminates at an antenna “farm” overlooking San Francisco and the bay. San Bruno Mountain is also home to the endangered Mission Blue butterfly and you can look for the inch-wide blue butterfly near lupine bushes. Mountain Watch organizes regular hikes on San Bruno Mountain.

In Woodside, Edgewood Natural Preserve is famous for its spring wildflower hikes led each weekend by docents between the months of March and June. Check the calendar to pick your favorite date and show up at 10am with a fierce (visual) appetite for wildflowers.

Further south, the most popular grassy ridge for wildflowers is undoubtedly Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, and a close second would be Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve. Both these open spaces offer short to moderate loops through grassland with views on the Santa Cruz mountains. At Pulgas Ridge, a moderate 3-mile hike along the Blue Oak, Dick Bishop, Polly Geraci, and Cordilleras Trails is a good choice for any spring sunny day. At Russian Ridge, Ancient Oaks, Mindego and Ridge Trails are all good options.

South of San Jose in Morgan Hill, Henry W. Coe State Park is a bounty for wildflowers early in the season and Springs Trail is an easy 1.8 mile (one way) hike to a picnic table under a large oak tree. Come back on the same trail or through Forest Trail, a nature trail where an interpretive laminated brochure guides you through the park’s flora and rocks.

Last but not least, Joseph D. Grant County Park in San Jose features an elevated valley bordered by hills on both sides, lakes and streams. Along the easy Hotel Trail, expect Johnny Jump Ups and California poppies on meadows. Wildflowers peak around mid to late April at Joseph D. Grant but since it’s quite a drive to get there, call the park rangers before your hike to know what’s blooming.

More wildflower events in Santa Clara county:

-          On Saturday April 9, don’t miss the “Wildflower Scavenger Hunt” at Almaden Quicksilver County Park from 10am to 12:00pm where kids pick up a wildflower identification booklet and hike along the easy Wood Road Trail to find them all. Register online or call (408) 355-2240 so the rangers have enough booklets for all the kids.

-          On Sunday April 17, “Power to the Petal” at Santa Teresa County Park from 11am to 1pm: hike with a Park Ranger to explore the bounty of wildflowers dotting the Santa Teresa foothills. Discover why the unique environment here contributes to a colorful display and provides critical habitat for several endangered species. Meet at the Pueblo group area with sturdy hiking shoes, sun protection, lunch and water. (408) 225-0225.

-          On Saturday April 23, “Wildflowers of the Serpentine Realm” at the Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park from 9am to 1pm. Take a moderate 5-mile hike to explore one of the rarest habitats in the world. See spectacular wildflowers and possibly even an endangered butterfly. Meet at the dam parking lot with sturdy hiking shoes, sun protection, camera, water and lunch. (408) 842-7800

-          On Saturday April 23, “Flourishing Flowers Hike” at Joseph D. Grant County Park from 11am to 2pm. Explore the park’s fields of color on an easy 2-mile hike with a Park Ranger. Learn to identify wildflowers and discover which are poisonous and which have medicinal value. Meet at the Stockman’s Parking Lot with sturdy hiking shoes, sun protection, water and lunch.(408) 274-6121

-          On Sunday April 24, “Creekside Nature Walk” at Anderson Lake County Park from 9am to 11:00am. Take an easy 2-mile walk with a Park Ranger to explore a creekside trail. Stop to identify wildflowers and look for animal signs. Meet at the Park Office at the end of Malaguerra Ave. in Morgan Hill. Bring sturdy hiking shoes, sun protection and water. (408) 779-3634

-          On Sunday April 24, “What’s That Flower?” at Almaden Quicksilver County Park from 9:30am to 11:30am. Come take a 3-mile hike with a Park Ranger to meet some of the common wildflowers of the park. Meet at the Hacienda parking lot with sturdy hiking shoes, sun protection, water, snacks and your wildflower guide (if you have one). (408) 268-3883

Happy Trails!

—Laure Latham

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