Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve: Planning Your Trip

Antelope Valley covered in poppies

TripSavvy / Amanda Capritto

You can find bright orange California poppies—the official state flower—throughout the entire state from Oregon all the way down to Mexico. Even though the poppy is protected from grazing and human interference, only one place in California is fully dedicated to the flower: the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve. When springtime comes, the grassy rolling hills explode not just with burning orange poppies but also purple lupin and owl's clover, yellow fiddlenecks, and pink filaree, making it a favorite destination for nature lovers and photographers from all over.

It's one of the most majestic places to see California wildflowers, but it requires some planning to get the best views. Spring is always the time to see the flowers in bloom, but some years are considered "super blooms" while in other years the poppies barely make an appearance. Whether you're visiting for the day from Los Angeles or making a pit stop on your road trip through California, find out all you need to know about this floral gold mine.

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Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The poppies generally begin their full bloom around mid-February or March and—in a good year—remain through April and May, although mid-March to mid-April is usually the peak bloom. Keep in mind that the bloom varies from year to year as the poppies need a perfect storm to grow. If it doesn't rain enough, the flowers won't even sprout. If it rains too much, the grass overruns the flowers. It's difficult to predict, so check the Live Poppy Feed to see current conditions.
  • Language: Park services are offered in English, although Spanish is also widely spoken in the local community.
  • Currency: The cost to enter the park is $10 per vehicle, but cars with a person aged 62 or older pay $9. If paying in cash, you should try and have exact change. Visa and Mastercard are both accepted, as well.
  • Getting Around: Vehicles aren't allowed in the park, but it's easy to walk around and explore the meadows on foot—just make sure you stay on the official trails to protect the flowers. There are 8 miles of trails to explore so you can easily spend a couple of hours in the park, depending on how much you want to hike. An ADA-compliant pathway stretches from the Visitor's Center partway into the reserve, and a wheelchair is available to check out during the bloom season.
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Travel Tips

Keep an eye on the live stream in the spring to make sure the flowers are actually in bloom and worth the journey. The Theodore Payne Foundation also publishes a weekly update on the state of the wildflower blooms throughout spring so you can get an idea of the best time to visit.

  • On weekends during the peak bloom, the parking lot often fills up. Plan your visit from Monday to Friday, if possible, to avoid the biggest crowds.
  • Additional parking is available—for free—on Lancaster Road in front of the park. However, it's at least a half-mile walk to the park entrance depending on where you find a spot.
  • Even on a sunny day, it's usually very windy in the spring, although the mornings are usually calm.
  • Pack extra water. Despite all of the vegetation, you're still in the desert and you'll dehydrate faster than you think.
  • To add to the excursion, head to Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park just 7 miles away for even more wildflowers and to see the famous Joshua trees.
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Photography Tips

The most important thing to remember is to stay on the official trail paths. There may be a perfect shot that's calling to you if you just walk a few steps off the trail, but apart from trampling sprouting flowers and packing the soil, you may also unwittingly run into a rattlesnake.

  • Check the weather forecast and go on a partially cloudy day, if possible. Full sunlight is too harsh for photos and causes heavy shadows, but if it's too overcast then the flowers won't open up.
  • Arrive at the beginning of the day or the end of the day for the best light conditions, avoiding the intense afternoon sun.
  • Use a tripod if you have one to snap the sharpest photos.
  • Pay attention to the background. It's easy to get wrapped up in one stunning flower, but a well-composed background is just as important as the focus point.
  • Remember to take photos and nothing else, leaving the flowers as they are for others to enjoy as well.
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Where to Stay

Since Antelope Valley is just 70 miles outside of Los Angeles, most visitors stay in LA and just make a day trip to see the flowers. However, the Southern California desert is one of the most breathtaking places to go camping in the state, especially during the ideal spring weather.

Saddleback Butte State Park is just 40 minutes east of Antelope Valley and has campgrounds available amongst the wildflowers and Joshua trees. One of California's most scenic campgrounds, Red Rock Canyon State Park, is about an hour north of Antelope Valley and conveniently en route to Death Valley National Park.

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Getting There

Antelope Valley makes for an easy day trip from Los Angeles, with the drive taking about an hour and 20 minutes if you don't hit traffic. If you happen to be on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco—or vice versa—then a quick pitstop to Antelope Valley is a short detour, adding about 45 minutes to the total trip time.

Taking your own vehicle is the easiest way to get there but, if you don't have a car, taking the train is also an option. The Antelope Valley line of the Metrolink departs periodically throughout the day from Union Station in Los Angeles and takes just over two hours to reach Lancaster, the final stop of the line. However, it's still a 20-minute drive from the Lancaster station to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, so you'll need to use a cab or ride-sharing service to get there.