Wildflower display in Northern California

Endless Poppies

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve SNR

Spring has sprung and that means flower blooms across the state of California. This was an image from a few years ago at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve SNR in late mid April.

As the wildflower blooms happen in Southern California in Feb./Mar. the blooming will slowly move north as the state starts to warm up across various regions. The Bear Valley Rd. area west of Sacrament should start to bloom in early to mid April and reach full bloom by early to mid May.

BEAR VALLEY RD: The Jewel in the Crown Stem and shoulders above every wildflower display in Northern California is Bear Valley, located west of the farming town of Williams in Colusa County. Deep in the Coast Range that separates the Sacramento Valley from the narrow inland valleys, remote Bear Valley, boasts one of the most dazzling wildflower displays in the world. Partly owned by the American Land Conservancy, it features wildflowers, many quite rare, that were once common in California’s intercoastal valleys and ranges.

The glory of any western wildflower display, is the California poppy. “This flower is now cultivated in many parts of the world,” wrote naturalist Mary Elizabeth Parsons over a century ago, but “one must go to its native hillsides to get any idea of its prodigal beauty.” And the hills and meadows of Bear Valley deliver on that promise. Fairly brimming over with the flower’s orange cups, Bear Valley’s poppies permit other wildflowers, such as Yellow Tidytips and the blue Royal Lupine, to stand out in greater contrast against its own golden carpet.

Even as you enter Bear Valley, you get a hint of what’s in store. Light pink cat’s ears, (Calochortus uniflorus) line the dusty road near the main bridge, and once inside, the valley floor and slopes fairly blaze in a Technicolor mix of Purple Owl’s Clover, Foothill Penstemon, and Blue Dicks. Wildflower lovers and photographers should keep an eye out for the rare pink Adobe Lilies, which start blooming in late March.

Other than the 14,964 acres owned by the ALC, much of the valley is still in private hands. The road into Bear Valley can be pretty rugged — there are spots that are either unpaved or thinly paved — since most of the area is still working ranchland, but the coat of dirt you’ll get on your car is worth the trouble.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Bay Area, take Insterstate 5 north to Williams, then drive 18 miles west on State Highway 20, then exit right and go north on Bear Valley Rd. 14 miles.

INFORMATION: Wildflower tours given by the ranching Keegan family are offered through April. Call 707-998-4471 for current costs and additional information. The ALC also publishes a Bear Valley Field Guide, and maintains a Bear Valley Wildflower hotline (415) 403-3850. It’s always best to call because late spring rains can occasional block or wash out the road into the valley.

area lodgingClearlake, Wilbur Hot Springs

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