7 Destinations For Viewing Spectacular Wildflower Blooms

Catch the bonanza of color unfurling in mountain meadows, lush forests, and desert dunes across the United States—and see some birds, too.
The sun is just above the horizon, and it casts light across a field with purple blooms in the foreground
Desert sand verbena and California shieldpod at Anza-Borrego. Photo: Mac Stone

While seasonal wildflower blooms offer spectacular displays for nature lovers, they didn’t evolve for our pleasure. Their job is to attract pollinating insects that help native plants produce seeds and, eventually, seedlings (a process that feeds birds along the way). “The insects are flourishing, the plants are flourishing, and everyone’s contributing to future generations,” says Naomi Fraga, director of conservation programs at the California Botanic Garden. 

You can always see wildflowers near home by picking up a field guide and heading to a local nature preserve (or planting in your yard). The destinations below offer particularly stunning arrays—and the opportunity to spot plenty of birdlife, too. 

Remember to be respectful by always staying on walking trails and leaving flowers unpicked, says Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the horticulture director at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas. Stories abound of flower chasers trampling plants in pursuit of the perfect view or photo. “It’s also good for ourselves to just slow down and smell the roses,” DeLong-Amaya says, “even if it’s not a rose.”

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California 

Peak bloom: March
White and purple blooms.
Desert sand verbena, California shieldpod, and primrose at Anza-Borrego. Photo: Mac Stone Photo: Mac Stone

This vast stretch of Southern California desert gets its color early in the year. Yellow desert marigolds, purple desert sand verbena, and pink beavertail cactus blooms begin to dot the sand as winter ends, while Swainson’s Hawks descend for a mid-migration caterpillar feast. With the right rain conditions, the region can sprout “superblooms” big enough to be seen from space, as occurred in 2023. Whether a major event is in the cards again for 2024 is tricky to predict, but experts say it’s possible—and winter precipitation picked up after a slow start.  

Crowd control: Desert blooms can draw huge crowds. Check the Theodore Payne Foundation’s wildflower hotline for updates, including nearby lesser-known spots.

Inks Lake State Park, Texas 

Peak bloom: April
Purple blooms in foreground with field and mountains in background.
Bluebonnets in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo: Zak Zeinert/Shutterstock

As spring arrives, bluebonnets blanket the rolling fields across Texas. The central Hill Country is a hotspot, and this park near Austin produces plenty of blue blossoms amid its pink rocky outcrops. Continue along one of the region’s scenic driving routes for views of roadside blooms, or head west to Big Bend National Park to see the tallest variety of bluebonnets, which grow three feet or more. Spring birding in the Hill Country offers up prized local species like the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo.

Crowd control: It can be tempting to pull right off the road for a photo op—but you may end up on private land. Nature centers and parks allow you to get up close with the flowers without worrying about trespassing.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Peak bloom: April-May
Close-up of light purple blooms
Mountain laurel bush blossoms in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Photo: Bethany Lynn Photography/Shutterstock

Sometimes called the Wildflower National Park, this area is home to more than 1,500 species of flowering plants. The forests and wetlands come alive with azaleas, wild geraniums, trilliums, and more. An annual “wildflower pilgrimage” offers workshops and guided hikes, and the park’s different elevations create chances to see both spring migrants and summer residents like Scarlet Tanagers and Hooded Warblers.

Crowd control: Take in the nation’s most visited national park early in the season; tourism ramps up in late spring and summer.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Peak bloom: May
Bird atop a cactus that is blooming with flowers near its top.
Cactus Wren on a saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Park, Arizona. Photo: Jay Pierstorff/Shutterstock

An array of blooms like brittlebush, chuparosa, and Indian paintbrush light up the Sonoran Desert. This park offers a unique sight: the white flowers that erupt from giant saguaro cacti. Though prickly, the towering plant—which grows to an average height of 40 feet—is also a friend to desert birds, including White-winged Doves that pollinate its blooms and Gila Woodpeckers that nest in its tissue.

Crowd control: Heat is a bigger concern than crowds. Temperatures can hit triple digits by June, so hydrate and avoid midday hikes.

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Peak bloom: June
Purple tall flowers, with verdant green fields and hills behind.
Lupine in Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire. Photo: Gerald G Gantar/Alamy

Lupines are the star of the show, covering rolling fields with waving stems of pink and purple. This park, set amid the peaks of the White Mountain National Forest, offers trails and valley vistas—and is home to northern birds like the Spruce Grouse and Bicknell’s Thrush. Nearby, the picturesque town of Sugar Hill holds a summer celebration of lupines, and a cheese store keeps a blog with flower updates throughout the season.

Crowd control: Though popular photo spots can become congested, blooms are widespread. Take scenic backroads for a quieter lupine fix.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Peak bloom: July-August
Purple, yellow, and red blooms in foreground, with forest and tall peaks in background, with the sky the color of dusk.
Magenta paintbrush and lupines in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. Photo: Lijuan Guo/Shutterstock

As snow melts off Mount Rainier, the open meadows just below the alpine zone come alive with a rainbow of wildflowers including purple lupines, white avalanche lilies, red paintbrush, and pink penstemons. Plenty of hiking trails traverse the bloom zone, especially in the Paradise and Sunrise areas of the park. Birds gather in meadows to feed on insects and seeds, from Mountain Bluebirds to a range of warblers and finches.

Crowd Control: Popular trails (and their parking lots) fill up quickly during the brief bloom period. Go off-hours, or venture to more remote parts, to avoid the rush.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas  

Peak bloom: Varies 
Brown prairie field in bloom.
Dotted blazing star in Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas. Photo: Clint Farlinger/Alamy

If you don’t want to commit to a schedule, the prairie provides a more flexible option: The landscape produces a cascade of blooms from spring into fall, with new species adding their colors week by week. Some varieties like asters, goldenrods, and blazing stars show up as late as October, when the prairie grasses like big bluestem have grown to their tallest heights. The preserve, a remnant of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem that was once widespread in the United States, is also home to Greater Prairie-Chickens and a herd of free-roaming bison.  

Crowd Control: The vast prairie offers plenty of room for solitude, but be sure to give the bison their personal space.

This story originally ran in the Spring 2024 issue as “A Bloom Bonanza.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.