Family-Friendly Wildflower Hikes
April showers—or in our case, January, February and March downpours—bring May flowers, especially wildflowers. All those natural floral beauties won’t last forever, so plan a hike while you can to see them for yourself.
All the excessive rain we’ve had over the past several months in Northern California was tough for many of us, but it was a welcome sight for our yards and gardens. While we didn’t have the same “super bloom” season that our neighbors in the southern part of the state enjoyed earlier this Spring, plenty of wildflowers of all sorts have popped up in abundance.
Even better is that we’re just now getting into prime wildflower season in the Bay Area, which starts the end of April and can last into mid-June, according to Visit California’s wildflower guide. Now is the time to grab your hiking shoes, pack a picnic and hit up one of these trails to get your flower fix before they go away for good. Before your hike, download the Seek app by iNaturalist on your smart phone, which will help you identify any floral species you encounter along the way. Oh, and please make sure to leave all flowers intact for everyone else to enjoy.
At Mt. Tam, a variety of wildflowers have been spotted on the Verna Dunshee Loop according to Eileen Bai, an interpretive specialist with the park. The loop is a paved trail at the top of the mountain’s east peak offering breathtaking views. Less than a mile long, it lets you see Indian Paintbrush, Indian Warrior, Manzanita, Huckleberry, Bush Poppy, Bush Lupines and Orange Bush Monkeyflower. The trail is mostly uncovered, so don’t forget your sunscreen.
A second hike at Mt. Tam is Cardiac Hill Loop which starts and ends at the Pantoll parking lot. It leads you to flowers in the shady Redwood forests like Milkmaids, Redwood Sorrel, Miner’s Lettuce and the Western Fairy Slipper. As the trail opens out to grassy slopes by Lone Tree, you’ll see Lupines, California Poppies, Western Blue-Eyed Grass, Blue Dicks, and the Douglas Irises which can be found along the sides of almost every trail in the park.
Point Reyes, with its dramatic sweeping views and abundance of wildlife, has long drawn in visitors to its splendor. According to Heather Clapp with the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, the hiking trails at Chimney Rock and Abbotts Lagoon in and around Point Reyes offer the best observations of a variety of wildflowers. Along these trails, you can see California poppies, Indian Paintbrush, Lupines Gold Fields, Iris, Monkeyflower and other species.
Steve Smith, a docent for the Mount Diablo State Park, points out that the best wildflower viewing this time of year is the hike along Mitchell Canyon, on which you can see the iconic Mount Diablo Globe Lily. The shady, easy walk along the flowing creek is relatively flat and can be enjoyed by the whole family, with the option to take a short one mile journey, longer four-mile trip or something in between. Mount Diablo also publishes a wildflower guide along with a list of currently blooming flowers.
With its flat paved paths, spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay and of course the famed horse statue, Blackie’s Pasture has long been a favorite spot in Marin for long, leisurely strolls. The newly opened Trestle Trail only adds to the charm with a trail that traces the old trestle of a long-ago railroad that served much of Tiburon. With picnic tables scattered along the way, the trail works well as the setting for an al-fresco lunch as well as wildlife observations.
Taking a hike in the Presidio is one of the best and most convenient ways to take in the area’s natural beauty without having to travel very far, or even outside San Francisco. The Ecology Trail, which starts at El Polin Springs, is the best bet for wildflowers. Keep a lookout for the Presidio Clarkia, an endangered flower named after Captain William Clark, co-leader and botanist for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The flower blooms in May through July, and at one time the Miwoks gathered its seeds for food. For more options, stop by the Presidio’s visitor center and pick up one of the hiking maps for a complete list of all trails in the area.