01 of 08
California's Best Wildflower Hike
In the 1860s, John Hite discovered gold near a wide place (a cove) in the narrow canyon of the Merced River's South Fork. His gold is long-gone, and today's gold-seekers come seeking gold in a different form: the color of California poppies and other spring wildflowers that line the 4.5-mile Hite Cove Trail hiking path overlooking the river.
With the hillside covered in up to 60 varieties of wildflowers, some people say the Hite Cove Trail is the best wildflower hike in all of California.
Depending on your inclination, your rate of picture-taking per mile may exceed your pace in miles per hour. On a hike in mid-April, I captured more than 50 "keeper" images in just two hours along the first mile of the trail.
You can find out how to get to the Hite Cove Trail on the last page of this slideshow. Keep clicking to find out about the hike and see some of the flowers that I found on the trail in just that one hike.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
Hiking the Hite Cove Trail
This flower is called Pretty Face (Triteleia ixioides). Native Americans gathered the bulbs of this plant in large quantities, harvesting it with digging sticks. They ate them raw, fried, boiled or roasted.
Hiking the Hite Cove Trail
The Hite Cove Trail is a 4.5-mile hike in each direction if you go all the way to the end, an out-and-back trail. The path is well maintained, hugging the hillside. It's wide enough to walk on comfortably, but with the downhill drop-off ending in the Merced River, it's not a place for the inattentive.
You'll find plenty of flowers within the first mile of the trail, generally blooming from March through May.
It's an in and out hike, so if you go all the way to the end of the trail, you'll walk 9 miles, but most of the flowers can be found along the first 2 miles. The trailhead is at 1,900 feet, and the elevation gain is minimal at only 100 feet. The best time to go is March through mid-May, although that can vary depending on the weather.
Hite Cove Trail is doable for anyone in moderately good physical condition, with a couple of somewhat steep sections and a few small stream crossings in wet weather. You may find hiking poles helpful on the steep sections. Photographers may find a hiking pole that doubles as a monopod particularly helpful.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Hite Cove Trail Tips
These beauties are called Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla). If you look at them long enough, the flowers start to look like little houses or a fairytale pagoda.
Hite Cove Trail Tips
- Much of the Hite Cove Trail is in the open, so you'll need a hat - and plenty of water.
- Take some food along, so you can take your time and enjoy the views.
- Avoid poison oak which grows along the trail. If you don't know about it, here's a photo and some information. Also, ticks can carry Lyme disease, so take precautions to prevent tick bites.
- The first section of the trail is on private property, so please be respectful and help keep the Hite Cove Trail open for everyone.
- Because the path goes straight in and out, you can manage without a map.
- Bicycles and horses are not allowed on the Hite Cove Trail, but dogs on a leash are.
- Many artifacts and pieces of old mining equipment can be found along the Hite Cove Trail, but it is illegal to remove or disturb them.
If you're heading to the mountains especially to view and enjoy the wildflowers along the Hite Cove Trail, you can stay right at the trail head. We loved our stay at the Yosemite Resort Homes, which are located on the banks of the Merced River, just a few steps from the beginning of the Hite Cove Trail.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Flowers Along the Hite Cove Trail: Sierra Biscuitroot
Biscuitroot (Lomatium torreyi) is a relative of a carrot. It grows close to the ground.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Flowers Along the Hite Cove Trail: Blue Dicks
Also known as Wild Hyacinth, Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) are part of the Amaryllis family.
Resist the urge to make the obvious joke here. Or just give in and have fun with it.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
Flowers Along the Hite Cove Trail: Sierra Woolly Indian Paintbrush
The source of this name is somewhat obvious, don't you think? Castilleja lanata looks like a scruffy paintbrush loaded up with red paint.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Flowers Along the Hite Cove Trail: Sierra Stonecrop
The Sierra Stonecrop (Sedum obtusatum) grows in the crevices of boulders or other places where mosses and lichens secure a thin layer of soil.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
What Does the Hite Cove Trail Look Like?
You've seen all these lovely flowers, but what does the trail look like? It's a pretty ordinary trail, actually. If you go all the way to the end, you can see a few remains of the old gold mine.
The path is little narrow in places, enough to prompt one of my friends to hang onto her honey for dear life, but doable for most people.
Getting to Hike Cove Trail
Hite Cove Trail starts at CA Hwy 140 east of Mariposa, near where the highway crosses the Merced River at Savage's Trading Post. Park on the side of the road nearest the river. The well-marked trail starts on the other side of the road and goes uphill from the highway.