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, protected from grazing and other human interference, making it a favorite destination of nature lovers and photographers from all over. The poppies aren't the only thing 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. Stay on the trails, no matter how tempted you are to get out in the middle of all those gorgeous flowers. Don't pick them, either. Photos are a much longer-lasting way to take them home, anyway.
- Take water and wear a hat. Pack a snack or picnic lunch and you can stay longer. It can be quite windy, so secure that hat or risk losing it.
- 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, but 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.
California PoppiesGetting 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 or call the wildflower hotline (both are listed below).
- Hours: Open daily
- Cost: Parking fee
- 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 ReserveTo reach the poppy reserve from I-5, exit at Hwy 138 east. After about 20 miles, turn right onto 170th Street West. When you reach the end of 170th Street (about 2 miles), turn left onto Lancaster Road and follow it around the curve to the visitor center, about 2 more miles. You'll see lots of poppy fields on the way, but it's well worth driving all the way up to the park where they're protected and bloom in astounding profusion, even if you have to wait for a little while to get in.
15101 Lancaster Road
GPS: Latitude: 34 degrees 40.661 N, Longitude: 117 degrees 49.645 W
Wildflower Hotline: 661-724-1180