Imagine the poppy field scene from The Wizard of Oz, but with orange colored poppies. Spread it more than 1,745 acres and put yourself in the middle of it. Now you've got an inkling of what it's like to be in the middle of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve at peak bloom during a good year.
California poppies bloom all over the state, even in the empty lot behind my house, but this high valley (2,600 to 3,000 feet elevation) is California's most consistent poppy-bearing land. It's protected from grazing and other human interference, making it a favorite destination of nature lovers and photographers from all over. Poppies aren't the only things blooming, either. Look for owl's clover, lupine, goldfield, cream cups, coreopsis and dozens of other wildflowers.
Scenes from Antelope Valley
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Antelope Valley Poppy Photo Tour
Tips for Visiting the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
- It's all about the poppies here, and rangers can get a little strident while trying to protect their flowery charges. Do your part to be sure the blooms come back next year by obeying the rules. No matter how tempted you are to get out in the middle of all those gorgeous flowers stay on the trails. If you trample or pick the flowers before they can make seeds, it cuts down on the following years's blooms. Photos are a much longer-lasting way to take them home, anyway.
- Take water and wear a hat. It can be quite windy, so secure that hat or risk losing it.
- Pack a snack or picnic lunch and you can stay longer. Shaded picnic tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Dogs are not allowed, but service dogs are permitted
- Rattlesnakes are among the local wildlife, so be alert. If you see one, back away slowly and leave it alone.
- You'll find 8 miles trails to walk on, and any of them are spectacular,. If you're up to it, a hike to the top of one of the taller hills is highly recommended.
- There's a short, wheelchair-friendly path leading into the fields from the visitor center. They also have one wheelchair available.
A really great poppy bloom is a bit like a perfect storm: It takes a lot of factors working together to make it happen. At Antelope Valley, the best years are sometimes far apart. If it rains too little, the flowers don't even come up. If it rains a lot, they do poke up through the dirt, but too much rain too early gets the grass growing first and the flowers can't compete.
In general, poppy season starts as early as mid-February and lasts through mid-May. The most reliable way to find out this year's status at the Poppy Reserve is to check their website. You can also call the wildflower hotline (both are listed below).
- Hours: Open daily. Current hours.
- Cost: Parking fee per car
- Location: Off I-5 near Lancaster, directions below
- How Long: Allow at least two hours, four is better
- Best Time to Visit: Poppy season varies (see more below), but when they're in bloom, get there early before the winds pick up or late afternoon for the nicest light
Getting to Antelope Valley
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
15101 Lancaster Road
GPS: Latitude: 34 degrees 40.661 N, Longitude: 117 degrees 49.645 W
Wildflower Hotline: 661-724-1180
More information and driving directions are at their website