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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
- Catalina State Park: Celebrating its 40th Anniversary + Hiking Safely in 110-degree Heat
- Flooding Strands Campers at Catalina State Park
- Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem
Details: 11570 N. Oracle Road, Tucson; $7 per vehicle
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
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
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.
Details: 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown; $7 per vehicle
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.
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.
But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower