Wildflowers in Arizona: Best Spots to See the Color (2024)

Because don’t we all belong among the wildflowers?

You belong among the wildflowers, you belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm, you belong somewhere you feel free.

 —Tom Petty

Springtime in the Arizona desert means wildflowers—lots and lots of wildflowers. Roadsides streaked with purple scorpionweed, vivid orange globemallow peeking out from rocky soil, mango-bright poppies snuggling with prickly cactus. 

The Arizona wildflower season of 2023 proved to be one for the ages. For several weeks last March and April the desert was submerged beneath a sea of golden poppies. The landscape shimmered with color as if a giant rainbow had toppled and splintered across the ground. Flowers outnumbered cactus spines. For petal peepers, this was the Super Bowl, Christmas morning, and Mardi Gras rolled into one long vibrant season.

Check this out to learn more: 2024 Wildflower Season is coming soon. Will it be a Superbloom?

Could there possibly be a repeat performance this spring? What are the chances of back-to-back super blooms? It’s hard to imagine since so many things must go right to create those magnificent displays. But hey, sometimes dreams do have a way of coming true.

Here’s what to expect from Arizona’s 2024 wildflower season.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will there be a superbloom in 2024?

It’s unlikely. The 2024 spring wildflower season will likely be average to above average which is still a pretty spectacular sight.

It will be showy in spots but color will not be as widespread as last year. Blame that on a late-starting and sputtering El Niño which doused some areas and left others wanting.

But the season won’t be a bust either.

With a dry autumn and only sporadic moisture in the early weeks of winter, fewer poppies will emerge. Poppies, lupines, and owl’s clover are annuals meaning they need enough moisture to create an entire plant from a seed that’s buried in the soil. It all starts with a triggering rain—a rain of an inch or more in fall or early winter to rouse the sleeping seeds.

That never developed. There will still be poppies; they just won’t blaze across the desert floor in a brilliant yellow mass like they did last year.

Yet it should be a good year for perennials. Brittlebush is already blooming along roadways. (They like the extra heat generated from the asphalt.) And I’ve seen Goodding’s verbena, globemallow, chuparosa, and fiddleneck budding and blooming as well. The storms that finally developed in January and February are perfect for them.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the best month for wildflowers?

It will depend on how long rains continue to fall and how fast temperatures rise. March is generally the best month for desert wildflowers. If cool weather lingers (like in 2023), the blooming period will begin later and then stretch into April.

Yet when the flower show starts winding down, different varieties of cactus take center stage to unfurl their surprisingly lavish blossoms. The gaudy purple of the hedgehogs; the yellow, orange, and peach of the prickly pears; and finally the ivory cream of the saguaros add their touch of drama. Cactus blooms peak from April into May helping to extend the desert’s most colorful season.

After that, the cycle repeats to a lesser degree at higher elevations with late spring blooms popping up in the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim Country where more rain fell during the winter creating some interesting potential for an amazing year.

In early summer, look to the alpine meadows of Flagstaff and the White Mountains adorned with fleabane, blue flax, paintbrush, and columbine. Monsoons bring out a yellow phase with goldeneye, golden crownbeard, yellow coreopsis, and sunflowers. The tall flower-topped stalks can often be seen nodding in autumn breezes.

So when you consider the length of the season, every year is a superbloom in Arizona.   

Where are the best places to see wildflowers in Arizona?

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Looking like a giant stone sail, the distinctive profile of Picacho Peak was the belle of the ball during the 2023 superbloom. Poppies devoured the flanks of the mountain, an invasion that went on for weeks as a line of cars snaked into the park for the show. Sadly, it won’t be like that this year.

Due to dry conditions, poppy displays will be spotty. Joining the scattered poppies will be some lupines and a mix of perennials including some rare globemallows with lilac-hued flowers.

Even in underwhelming years, Picacho Peak is a good park to visit especially for folks with limited mobility. Visitors will be able to see most of the flowers from the park roadway and adjacent picnic tables. For a closer look, the best color can be found on the easy Nature Trail, Children’s Cave Trail, and the moderate Calloway Trail.

Here are some helpful resources:

Details: 15520 Picacho Peak Road, Picacho; $7 per vehicle

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Perched at the edge of the towering Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman makes for great hiking any time. But when wildflowers spill down the slopes, it is truly dazzling.

Park rangers are expecting poppies to be scarce this year.

Perennials like brittlebush and globemallow have roused from their winter nap and should peak sometime around mid-March unless temperatures stay cool. Last year’s display of brittles was stunning and they should be out in force once again.

For the best flower viewing, start up the Siphon Draw Trail and then circle back on Jacob’s Crosscut and Treasure Loop.

Details: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction; $10 per vehicle

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake

This is one of the few places expecting a good wildflower season. Look for showings of color on Bartlett Dam Road as it winds past rolling hills dotted with clumps of brittlebush and stands of poppies. Poppies and lupines grow on the banks above the water. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for rare white poppies; this is a good spot for them.

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day. The wildflower medley along Palo Verde often includes a supporting cast of fairy duster, blue phacelia, evening primrose, yellow throat gilia, and cream cups to go along with the poppies, lupines, and brittles.

Peak color should be around the middle of March.

An $8 Tonto Day Pass is required to hike or park at Bartlett Lake. Buy in advance online or at an authorized retailer; passes are not sold on site.

Read more about this oasis in the desert: Bartlett Lake: A Sonoran Desert Oasis

Details: Bartlett Reservoir Lake is about 57 miles northeast of central Phoenix in Tonto National Forest

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Rangers are cautiously optimistic at this scenic park on the north side of Tucson. Late-season storms should make things interesting.

Being situated on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains and intersected by a big wash that often flows with water creates a cooler environment so the park has a slightly later blooming season. Look for peak color from mid-to-late March possibly stretching into April barring a heat wave.

No matter what, you won’t see much color from the road in Catalina. You’ve got to get out and hike which makes the blooms you do find all the more rewarding.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with poppies, cream cups, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. The best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

For those looking for a quick outing a good wildflower spot is on the Nature Trail. The path climbs a low hill that’s often carpeted with an array of blooms. Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days of the week.

If you need ideas, check out:

Details: 11570 N. Oracle Road, Tucson; $7 per vehicle

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peridot Mesa

Peridot Mesa, about 20 minutes east of Globe, is one of Arizona’s hot spots for wildflower viewing and one of the very first places in the state to kick off the spring wildflower season.

Just past mile marker 268, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. It is recommended that you drive a half-mile down this road toward the color. Expect to see poppies, lupines, globemellows, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides.

Peridot Mesa is on San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation which encompasses 1.8 million acres of pristine land spanning across three regions of mountain country, desert, and plateau landscapes. 

That’s why I wrote Exploring San Carlos and Peridot Mesa.

Details: About 20 miles east of Miami-Globe on Highway 70; $10 Recreation Permit

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Canyon National Recreation Trail

With poppies in short supply, seek out the most reliable of desert flowers, the brittlebush. You’ll find a good selection of brittles on portions of Black Canyon National Recreation Trail in Rock Springs north of Phoenix.

The trail winds through open desert reaching a split at 0.7 mile. Bear left for the Horseshoe Bend segment or right for the K-Mine segment. Both are moderate trails that support a mix of cactus and wildflowers on rocky slopes with an abundance of brittles. Peak color should be mid-to-late March. And both segments descend quickly to the Agua Fria River in about 2 miles.

Details: About 45 miles north of central Phoenix, take Exit 242 off Interstate 17 at Rock Springs and turn west to the frontage road. Turn north and drive about 100 yards to Warner Road and turn west. Follow Warner Road 0.3 mile to the trailhead parking.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

The rolling hills above Lake Pleasant are often shaggy with bouquets of brittlebush. If poppies do make an appearance, most can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away along with brittles, blue dicks, blue phacelia, and globemallows.

A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Check out Lake Pleasant, an Oasis in the Sonoran Desert for more inspiration.

Details: 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown; $7 per vehicle

Along SR 79 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best wildflower drives

State Route 79 north of Florence

Florence is small town that’s a pleasant day trip from Phoenix. While this is true anytime of the year it’s especially enjoyable in spring when the drive puts on a colorful show featuring globemallow and poppies.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beeline Highway (State Route 87) near Saguaro Lake

This road that heads northeast out of Phoenix toward Payson sports some stunning scenery any time of year as the desert floor gradually gives way to saguaro-studded hills and eventually the trees of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The area near Saguaro Lake sports a Sonoran Desert landscape that yields up plenty of Arizona wildflowers in the spring.

Apache Trail (State Route 88) between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat

This roughly 17-mile stretch of road winds into the base of the Superstition Mountains past Canyon Lake with plenty of petal-peeping and viewpoints along the way.

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan

Fields of Poppies Adorn Picacho Peak (State Park)

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak receives a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state

It’s no secret that Arizona is currently experiencing what may be the best wildflower bloom in possibly two decades. Mexican poppies, purple lupine, brittlebush, scorpion weed, and globe mallows (among others) are blanketing the desert as they put on a vivid and virtually unforgettable springtime display.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Central and southern state parks are in the midst of prime time, and the blooms will increase with intensity northward as summer draws closer. Right now, Picacho Peak, Alamo, and Catalina state parks are great places to stretch the legs, take some pics, and enjoy Mother Nature’s show. Oracle State Park should be coming on strong very soon as well! 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The old saying goes “April showers bring May flowers,” but Arizona operates on its own timetable!

March is peak wildflower season, and with the rain and snow the state is alive with color. Wildflower season is upon us.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Picacho Peak is arguably one of the best spots to see blooming wildflowers in Arizona, with bushels of incredible golden blooms around the base of the mountain and campgrounds. The desert wildflowers of the park offer a unique and beautiful contrast to the green and brown hues of this Sonoran Desert destination.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Experience the trails as they wind through a carpet of yellow, meandering through the desert exposing new beautiful sights each step along the way. Plants, shrubs, and cacti are all abloom—as if for your pleasure.

Springtime weather is perfect for a desert camping experience, book a site and expose yourself to the beauty that spring-time Arizona so selflessly shares with you.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ephemeral Mexican gold poppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. And this is a banner year for Picacho Peak, a superbloom! Everywhere we look, we see pops of colors. 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located some 30 miles south of our home base in Casa Grande, just off Interstate 10, the state park has been drenched with some unusually large storms stretching all the way back to last summer’s monsoon. There’s a lush ground cover unlike anything we’ve seen in the 20 years since we first hiked this park.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t think you have to climb the centerpiece spire for the best views (been there, done that in my younger years). Just the opposite, as most poppies, brittlebush, lupines, and globemallows flourish on the lower slopes. You will be able to enjoy plenty of color from the park road and adjacent picnic tables. Come early as parking spaces fill quickly.

We found amazing showings of color on the easy Nature Trail (0.5 miles) and the moderate Calloway Trail (0.7 miles).

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Annuals—like poppies and lupines—germinate in the fall with enough rain. Then, throughout the winter, they need consistent rain every two or three weeks to keep growing. Perennials like brittlebush and globemallows don’t need that initial rain and are better able to endure rising temperatures.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The poppies only open on bright, sunny days. They close up every afternoon before the sun descends and on cloudy or windy days. The presence of poppies usually indicates that there has been normal to above-normal rainfall the winter previous. A week of 85-degree days would wipe out the poppies. 

Know the cardinal rules of wildflower viewing: Stay on trails, park in designated areas, take your trash home and don’t pick flowers. Some other things to keep in mind: Be prepared with essentials such as water, food, sunscreen, extra layers of clothing, and a trail map that will work even if your cellphone doesn’t.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan

Picacho Peak State Park Is Alive With Color

Picacho Peak State Park is one of the best places to see the spring yellow, red, orange, blue, and purple desert blooms

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park.

Except for the saguaros, Picacho Peak looks like it could have been plucked from the hills of Ireland. The thrust of mountain rising from the desert floor is luxuriantly green. Sitting 30 miles south of our home base in Casa Grande, just off Interstate 10, the state park has been drenched with some unusually large storms stretching all the way back to last summer’s monsoon.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The mountain looks like it is grass all the way up the sides. There’s a lush ground cover unlike anything we’ve seen in the 20 years since we first hiked this park.

Picacho Peak is known for fields of poppies in spring, blanketing the mountain slopes. This is a banner year for Picacho Peak, a superbloom!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I’m crouched down.

Eye level with the poppy.

I’m feeling lucent.

Even a little lightheaded!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Maybe it’s the poppy—that master of color, refraction, and mind-altering chemistry.

Then again, maybe I’m just not as good at contorting myself into a poppy-level crouch as I was in my younger days.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Either way, the poppies have returned—fulfilling their ancient, flashy promise.

They pretty much skipped 2018—the year with no winter.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But spring seekers and flower junkies have been waiting this spring with trembling anticipation—having noted the steady succession of wet Pacific storms in December and January and on through February.

As a result the flowers have emerged on the slopes of Picacho Peak.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I love all the flowers—the lupine and globemellow and the yellow brittle brush. But the poppies have my heart.

Those dreamlike petals are only three cells thick. The cells on the top and bottom are loaded with pigments. The botanists—who printed their results in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A—said they could find no other reports of a greater concentration of pigment in the natural world.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

And those cells are folded and fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. This creates a whole network of little air spaces built into the flower.

As a result of this remarkable structure, the light comes in through that top layer of folded cells and then bounces around inside the cells—passing back and forth through the pigment. The rays of light refract, a sunset in a layer of cells.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All of this brilliant manipulation of color has everything to do with the insect pollinators the poppies are working to attract. Bear in mind, in a good wildflower year those pollinators have a whole hillside of clamoring flowers to choose from.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Poppies have evolved to produce different colors, depending on their pollinators. This enables them to attract a wide variety of pollinators.

Other researchers have come up with some intriguing theories on the extreme adaptability of poppies, which have adapted to different conditions all over the world. The University of York scientists were mostly focused on trying to figure out the evolution of poppy chemistry, which produces things like opium and painkillers.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The poppies have been up to this for the past 100 million years or so and likely accounts for the ability of the Golden California and Mexican poppies to cope with the extremes of the Sonoran Desert climate in Arizona and southern California.

All I know is I can’t get enough of poppies. Call it addiction.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But excuse me for now—the poppies have fully opened to the light of another day. The flowers only open on bright, sunny days. They close up every afternoon before the sun descends and on cloudy or windy days. A week of 85-degree days would wipe out the poppies. 

So I must enjoy the glorious poppies.

golden Mexican poppies

And hope—at my age—that I can still stand up when I’m done.

Worth Pondering…

Through the dancing poppies stole A breeze, most softly lulling to my soul.

—John Keats