Spring is a time for rebirth in the California High Sierra. The snow begins to recede to the higher elevations, and the sun angle becomes more pronounced. The foothills transition from earthy brown tones to the bright cheery crayons of spring. It also means High Sierra wildflowers season is upon us! Here are several of the best wildflower hiking opportunities coming up in April and beyond. Don’t wait… because if you do, you’ll miss seeing some of the greatest natural tapestries in the world.
Red Hills Recreation Area
The vegetation and landscape in the Red Hills Recreation Area is one-of-a kind. How rare? Well, the assemblage of plant species found here include seven rare specimens that occur nowhere else on the planet. You can expect to see a rich variety of annual wildflowers with a spectrum of yellow, white, and lavender. You may even get a sighting of the endangered Bald Eagle!
Mokelumne River Canyon
Granite scenery, high country, and big water at high elevations… what more could you want on a hike? Inside the deep Mokelumne River Canyon, you’ll see beautiful Sierra Nevada vistas, aspens, and wildflowers all on display just for you. If you’re really serious about wildflower sightings, download a checklist so you don’t miss anything from California poppies to brilliant lupines.
Hite Cove Trail
Beaming with a spectacular display of wildflowers in early spring, February to April is the perfect time to visit the Hite Cove Trail. Hikers are welcomed to a beautiful palette of colors with over 60 varieties of wildflowers blanketing the hillsides along the South Fork of the Merced river. Follow the guidelines of “Leave No Trace” and take pictures home instead of wildflowers so that future generations can enjoy them as well.
A riparian wetland, it contains one of the richest wetland floras in the entire Great Basin. Only minutes from Bishop and Highway 395, there is a beautiful driving loop in addition to multiple easy hikes with over 125 plant species to spot, including eight rare varieties. Fish Slough is an extravagant find for flower enthusiasts. The diversity of species will deliver a vast assortment of color and size. Here you’ll see blossoms of cream, yellow, and magenta carpeting the slopes that border the slough. For additional options and historical treasures, stop by the Bishop Visitor Center.
At an elevation of 6,000 – 10,000 feet above sea level, spring comes a bit later from a wildflower perspective in and around Lake Tahoe. For example, Carson Pass at 8,000′ provides a bounty of wildflowers. But you’ll have to wait until the snow recedes which could be as late as June. Depending on your group and how much time you have, there are a host of hikes to take. For families with small children, the mile stroll to Frog Lake is perfect. Followed by Winnemucca Lake at four miles round-trip, and for the ambitious, hike eight miles round-trip to visit Fourth of July Lake. Finally, if you don’t have the time, kids too young to hike, or have folks in your group that can’t go for a long hike you can still enjoy wildflowers in the Heavenly Village at the base of the Gondola.
Just to the east of Carson Pass and one valley over from its famous cousin Hope Valley is Charity Valley. It’s another lesser-known high-country hike to take in wildflowers. Some might even say it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in this section of the Sierra. If you don’t have time or energy for the hike, take a drive along Blue Lakes Road within the valley and spot wildflowers alongside it. This trail can be done as a point-to-point hike starting at the Blue Lakes trailhead on the west and finishing at the Grover Hot Springs on the east.
Seven miles to the west of Truckee you’ll find the Sagehen Creek trail. Following the creek of the same name, it’s another late bloomer due to its high elevation of 6,000’ above sea level with wildflowers reaching their climax in June. With an ascent of less than 300 feet across its six mile out and back route, this is a high reward low effort stroll for wildflowers. Weaving alongside the bubbling stream, you’ll find an abundance of Mule Ears and other flora and fauna as they culminate at the Stampede Reservoir. A great option for runners, hikers, as well as family friendly.
Little Lakes Valley Trail
For those planning a trip this summer to the High Sierra, the Little Lakes Valley trail, located at the end of Rock Creek Road, is one of the most scenic and relatively gentle hikes found in the Eastern Sierra. After the winter snow has melted, you’ll be surrounded by subalpine flowers such as purple lupine, paint brush, crimson columbine, and bull elephant’s head, sprouting around mid- to late July.
Spring is here! It’s “high-time” to plan a trip to the High Sierra and see the explosive color of wildflowers that few other places can compete with.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at https://localfreshies.com
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