The California poppy is the star of the flower show, which includes a supporting cast of fiddlenecks, cream cups, tidy tips and gold fields. March through Memorial Day is the time to hike through this wondrous display of desert wildflowers. Seven miles of gentle trails criss-cross the 1,760-acre reserve.

The California poppy blooms on many a grassy slope in the Southland, but only in the Antelope Valley does the showy flower blanket whole hillsides in such brilliant orange sheets. Surely the finest concentration of California’s state flower (during a good wildflower year) is preserved at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in the Mojave Desert west of Lancaster.

Pathways amidst the poppies in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Pathways amidst the poppies in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Visit the Jane S. Pineiro Interpretive Center, named for the painter who was instrumental in setting aside an area where California’s state flower could be preserved for future generations to admire. Some of Pineiro’s watercolors are on display in the center, which also has wildflower interpretive displays and a slide show. Built into the side of a hill, the center boast an award-winning solar design, windmill power and “natural” air conditioning.”

Directions: From the Antelope Valley Freeway (California 14) in Lancaster, exit on Avenue I and drive west 15 miles. Avenue I becomes Lancaster Road a few miles before the Poppy Reserve. The reserve (day use fee) is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Spring wildflower displays are always unpredictable. To check on what’s blooming where, call the park before making the trip.