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The Wildflower Enthusiast’s Guide to greater Palm Desert

Following a few soaking rains, desert-dwellers start dreaming of a spring made lush by blooming perennials and colorful wildflowers, transforming our hillsides and dunes. What used to be a relatively local phenomenon, though, has been transformed by the power of the internet. As more people descend on relatively small wildflower hot spots, it’s smart to prepare with a quick brush-up on what to look for, where to start your search and how to do so in a safe and conscientious manner.

You may have noticed that the one thing we didn’t address right there is “when.” Even in a good rainfall year, it’s difficult to predict if and when wildflowers will bloom in the desert. It takes the right combination of sun, rain and temperature to set the stage for the springtime bloom. Assuming the desert receives enough rain and warm (but not hot) temperatures, wildflowers generally bloom from mid-February through March.

There are great online resources that track the popular wildflower destinations of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park, both of which are easy day trips from the Coachella Valley. For those destinations, we’ve compiled an easily downloadable handout that will point you to the right websites so you can track the bloom.

If you’d prefer to do your wildflower search a bit closer to Palm Desert, there are a handful of dependable locations to consider visiting. We’ve listed our favorite Coachella Valley flower locations below as well as the species that you are most likely to encounter.

Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center
51500 Highway 74 in Palm Desert
Open Thursday-Monday, 9am – 4pm, October through April 14

Adjacent to Visitor Center is the fully accessible Ed Hastey Loop Trail, which is a reliable spot to see desert perennials at their best thanks to some drip irrigation. The nearby Randall Henderson Trail is often a dependable area to find a wide variety of wildflowers in the spring, including:

  • Cheesebush
  • Creosote
  • Bladderpod
  • Chuckwalla’s Delight
  • Desert Dandelion
  • California Evening Primrose
  • Palo Verde
  • Encelia
  • Apricot Mallow
  • Chuparosa
  • Desert Lavender
  • Desert Heron Bill

Highway 74 (Palms to Pines Highway) and the Cactus Spring Trail

Highway 74 in general can be a scenic drive in the springtime, with its proliferation of Encilia (brittlebush) and lupine. The closest upper elevation trail along Highway 74 in the National Monument is the Cactus Springs Trail, approximately 16 miles south of Highway 111. Drive south on Highway 74 for almost 16 miles until you reach the Cactus Spring Trailhead (indicated as such by a sign along the road). Go ¼ mile then turn left to reach the trailhead parking area. The Cactus Spring Trail is a reliable area for wildflowers later in the spring when blossoms on the valley floor have begun to fade.

  • Nolina
  • Desert Apricot
  • Brown-Eyed Primrose
  • Forget-Me-Nots
  • Fremont Pincushion
  • Deerweed
  • Creosote Bush
  • Whispering Bells
  • Encelia
  • Eriophyllum
  • Chinchweed
  • Desert Dandelion
  • Desert Mallow
  • Rose Mallow
  • Ocotillo
  • Sand Verbena
  • Arizona Lupine
  • Desert Heron’s Bill
  • Kraemeria
  • Chia
  • Santa Rosa Beard Tongue
  • Wild Heliotrope
  • Teddy Bear Cholla
  • Beavertail Cactus
  • Hedgehog Cactus

Indian Canyons
Located at the end of South Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. The three main canyons offer well-established trails with a variety of terrain, including native desert fan palm oases.

  • Forget-Me-Nots
  • Checker Fiddleneck
  • Creosote
  • Little Gold Poppy
  • Encelia
  • Desert Mallow
  • Desert Lavender
  • Desert Hyacinth
  • Yerba Santa
  • Notch Leafed Phacelia
  • Chuparosa
  • Desert Heron Bill
  • Arizona Lupine
  • Wild Hyacinth
  • Canterbury Bells
  • Beavertail Cactus
  • Barrel Cactus

Tahquitz Canyon
500 West Mesquite Ave., west of downtown Palm Springs.

  • Forget-Me-Nots
  • Checker Fiddleneck
  • Creosote
  • Encelia
  • Desert Lavender
  • Desert Hyacinth
  • Yerba Santa
  • Notch Leafed Phacelia
  • Chuparosa
  • Desert Heron

Tramway Road
Off of North Palm Canyon Dr. (Highway 111) northwest of downtown Palm Springs.
Take Tramway Road to the lower Tramway Station for a short nature trail.

  • Jimson Weed
  • Forget-Me-Not
  • Encelia
  • Creosote
  • Desert Lavender

Coachella Valley Preserve
29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd., north of Ramon Road.
Wednesday-Sunday, 8am-4pm

The Coachella Valley Preserve offers a network of trails with a great diversity of flowers. Please note the new hours for the preserve, and that the McCallum Trail and Simone Pond are closed until October 2020 for habitat restoration. The surrounding environment, especially Washington Street north of I-10 and Varner Road can provide good viewing of wildflowers as well.

  • Sweetbush
  • Honey Mesquite
  • Sand Blazing Star
  • Desert Sunflower
  • Desert Spanish Needle
  • Rock Daisy
  • Sand Verbena
  • Chia
  • White Ratany
  • California Evening Primrose

In addition to these locations, keep your eyes open for wildflowers while on your regular travels or in your own neighborhood. Empty lots and tracks of land on Portola Avenue, Frank Sinatra Drive and Cook Street, for example, often erupt with a profusion of sand verbena, while desert sunflowers bloom along Interstate 10.

Lastly, here are a few things to remember as you go out to enjoy wildflowers responsibly in the area:

Desert ecosystems are fragile. Wandering into fields of flowers for the right photo angle—or worse yet, sitting amongst them and posing—means you will unnecessarily compact the surrounding soil and risk leaving an irreparable scar on the land. Stay on roadsides, hard surfaces and trails to prevent damage to newly emerging plants or animal habitats. Never pick flowers or uproot plants. Doing so prevents seeds from developing into the wildflowers of next season.

Now grab your camera and your hiking boots, and go out there and make it a colorful spring!

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