Chasing Poppies: California Poppy Festival

When growing up, there was a saying that said “April showers bring May flowers.” It took me awhile to fully comprehend the saying because I grew up in Seattle, where April showers ended up being May showers or even June showers and we would have beautiful blooms regardless of the time of the year. Whether it be the tulip festival (See A Day of Color: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival) or the wild marigolds along the trail, I was spoiled with an endless sea of colorful flora.  

A few years and adventures later, life brought me to California where I truly learned the meaning of the saying above. Especially when exploring the Mojave Desert. For 3/4 of the year, most of the desert is barren, with animals and insects scurrying about to avoid the extreme heat in the summer, or the cold in the winter.  You have plants that have adapted like the Joshua Trees, desert grasses and the many different cacti, but the harsh environment doesn’t do much to sustain other plant life. That is until Mother Nature wakes up from her winter slumber and coats the earth in rain. Spring is in the air! Even Punxsutawney Phil comes out of hiding just to see when spring will finally be here.  

Something magical happens while all that rain starts to fall. All the seeds that were dried up from the harsh desert sun begin to hydrate and start growing roots. In no time wild flowers cover the hills of the Mojave Desert. Among that  sea of color is the California State flower, the California Poppy! In vibrant orange, it coats the Mojave Desert Grassland in style. One of the best places to see this superstar is at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and the California Poppy Festival.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Every spring the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve comes alive! Lupine, Goldfields, and Cream Cups join the California Poppy in creating a mosaic of color that is never the same! With eight miles of trails throughout the rolling hills of the the park, there is plenty to take in. Along the trails, you will spot many different species of wildlife as well, such as meadow larks, lizards, and snakes. If you’re lucky, you may spot a coyote or a bobcats, even a gopher or kangaroo rat!

The best time to visit the reserve is during the late winter and early spring months. That is when the wild flower blooms are the most intense. While the season tends to last until early May, the duration and intensity varies from year to year, relying heavily on the amount rainfall during those months. The best thing to do before heading to the reserve would be to call the Wildflower Hotline for the latest updates. You can find that number below.

California Poppy Festival

With the poppy reserve on its outskirts, the City of Lancaster co-sponsored the Wild Flower Information Center to cater to the thousands of visitors that flocked to the reserve and the greater Antelope Valley for a glimpse of the brilliant and beautiful poppies. And since the California Poppy blooms each year around the time of Earth Day, it seemed only natural to combine these two events into the California Poppy Festival.       

Over the years, the festival grown and now plays host to over 55 acres of activities, hundreds of exhibits and live performances. It’s a great way to celebrate one of places that boasts some of the most abundant crops of the vibrant poppy that California calls it’s State Flower. 

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Whether you go to the reserve, to the festival, or both, here are some helpful tips when visiting.

1. Call the Wildflower Hotline before going. The blooms vary from year to year, so make sure you call before heading out. While there are many things to see at the reserve and it is open from sunrise to sunset year round, you don’t want to get there and the season be over with. The Wildflower Hotline (661) 724-1180

2. Dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes. With 8 miles of trails at the reserve and 55 acres of activities at the festival, you’re definitely going to get a workout. While it’s normally sunny warm skies, spring weather is unpredictable, so brisk breezes and stormy skies are possible. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a great idea as well. No need to match your skin color to the poppies 😉

3. There is a $10 fee to enter the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Make sure you bring cash. Ticket prices and dates for the California Poppy Festival can be found here. There are also many other places where you can see the poppies and other wildflowers, many of which are free. The Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center within the poppy reserve offers maps of the surrounding area and they keep a list of flowers spotted in the area. You can also find info on them online here.  Directions to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve can be found below

4. Stay on the trail. The reserve is fragile and walking off the trail will crush plants along the way and compact soil, leaving a bare spot of dirt for years to come. That being said, everything in the reserve is protected. So do NOT pick the flowers. They immediately wilt after being picked and they carry the seeds needed for next year’s wild flowers. They also carry a pretty serious fine if picked.

5. There are no animals allowed on the trails or visitor center, with the exception of service dogs. Since there is no shaded areas and the desert will heat vehicles quickly, dogs cannot be left alone in the vehicle. To be safe, please leave Fido at home.

Have you been to the poppy reserve or the poppy festival? Tell me about it! You can also follow along for more adventures by signing up for our newsletter or following us on Facebook or Instagram!

Center map

34 thoughts on “Chasing Poppies: California Poppy Festival

  1. I have to go for both. As a lover of flowers, those fields are a dream come true! Thank you for the tips, I always enjoy a good old outdoor festival with carnival rides. Loved the photos Joe!

  2. I agree with you, Joe. There is indeed something truly magical about seeing a field of brightly coloured flowers. Thx so much for sharing your magnificent photos of the California Poppy Festival.

  3. Tulip season is my favourite time of year (I used to go to the festival in Agassiz, British Columbia every year) but I’d never heard of or seen photos of Poppy Festivals before! Thanks for the great pics… what a special sight 🙂

  4. Mother nature is just incredible! That the land is so barren and dry for most of the year to be able to be covered with vibrant colour in a matter of weeks is amazing! Thanks for sharing your tips to get the best from both the reserve and the festival!

  5. Your poppy field photos look so beautiful! I’ve always associated poppies with family trips to the seaside and always get a bit melancholic whenever I see such photos. We’d always stop to admire poppy fields which were pretty much everywhere on our drive to the Black Sea. Or it just seemed to me they were 🙂

  6. I had no idea there was such a thing as a Poppy Festival. I happen to love California and this just gives me another reason to visit. Your photos immediately pulled me in, and I now want to go to the Poppy Festival!

  7. Wow! I can’t believe how big the fields are!!! I’ve been to Keukenhof in Amsterdam, the world’s largest tulip festival. I can imagine this is a similar experience. I’m not even a big garden/ flower person and yet it’s hard not to find the absolute beauty in the colors and mass amounts of flowers!

  8. That looks beautiful – I knew about the famous poppy fields of Afghanistan but didn’t realize that such a place exists in the good ‘ole US of A! (BTW, not sure I want to see a kangaroo rat, whatever that is!).

  9. A poppy-chasing festival?! HA! Who’d have thought. Great pictures – not much of a flower baby, but I know one or two who are going to lose their shit, just looking at this post (in a good way of course)! HAHA

  10. That’s a pretty impressive display of poppy fields! Such a stunning vibrant color that just screams, we’re here! I love your photos! The power of water is truly awe-inspiring.

  11. Guess I visited the Mojave Desert, I didn’t look anything like in your beautiful pictures. I also didn’t know that you have different coloured poppies, I only knew of the well know red poppies that are used as a symbol for remembering the war.

  12. Wow, so many flowers… What a beautiful colors, truly stunning. Your pictures are wonderful and a great introduction to the Poppy Festival, something I had never heard of before!

  13. Wow, the fields covered with poppies look amazing! I would love to see it with my own eyes. In my country we don’t have orange poppies, just red ones. They looks so beautiful! I can’t believe they grow on the desert!

  14. Spectacular! And what an out of the ordinary post this is – Poppies are simply wonderful – oh I would love to see these fields filled with them. Thank you for bringing this to my attention – lovely inspiration for a future trip abroad 🙂

  15. Such a coincidence because I am watching the show Once Upon A Time and they are talking about poppies. Very pretty, I didn’t know there was a festival.

  16. Nice photos of flowers here. Seriously, the antelope valley is sooo amazing! You got me there! I haven’t seen a wide view of flowers so I was amazed to see it 🙂 would love to be there someday.

  17. WooW. Those are some really nice photos. I love flowers and I have a full garden of red tulips that are really nice too but I would like to visit your county and take some photos there.

  18. Look at all the flowers. They give me the urge to run through them and then make flower angels. The colors look amazing in your picture. I hope I can attend the festival someday.

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