It finally feels like spring and that means the wildflowers are blooming. This year, they seem to be getting a slower start than usual, likely due to the chilly weather, wind, and rain that have persisted in the Bay Area. But recent sunshine and warming temperatures mean it’s time to lace up your boots and head out to enjoy the hunt. I love to hike, so I’m often asked where the good wildflower spots are. Below is my pick of favorite places — some nearby, and a few within about an hour’s drive of Berkeley.
Notes: I’ve referred to flowers by their common names so if you love the Latin, look for the many online resources for that. Check out the online trail maps to plan your routes and find out about any trail closures. You can usually search for websites that will tell you what’s blooming in each park, and even where certain flowers are located. A friend recommended the app called Seek to do on-the-spot IDs of plants and flowers. Another popular one is “Picture This.” Remember to dress appropriately, bring water, hats, and take only pictures. Picking the flowers, stepping on plants off the trail, or otherwise disturbing them is not OK!
If your favorite spot for seeing wildflowers isn’t listed below, let us know about it in the comments.
Nearby (listed from easiest walk to most challenging hike)
1. Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park Serpentine Prairie, Oakland
Over the past 14 years, the large serpentine meadow area in this Oakland spot has been successfully restored. Right now, in season, you might see rare species of clarkia and a variety of native prairie grasses thriving alongside lots of colorful wildflowers. Take an easy walk around the meadow or venture further into Redwood Regional Park for a longer hike. Fun fact: Serpentine is the California State Rock and this is a great place to see the unusual green-ish rock and the plants that love it.
Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, 11500 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. There is a lot for parking at the Richard C. Trudeau Conference Center.
2. The Bay Area Ridge Trail, south from the Tilden Park Steam Trains, Orinda
I call this the Trillium Trail due to the fact that many of these woodland flowers bloom less than a quarter mile from the trailhead. There are great views of Mt. Diablo from various spots, along with hillsides of lupines, poppies, mule’s ears, blue dicks, and checkerbloom, among others. The trailhead starts across the road from the steam trains and heads south. When the trail splits, veer to the right along the Skyline Trail. This is an out-and-back trail that eventually gets you to Sibley Volcanic Preserve, so turn around when you’re halfway tired!
Charles Lee Tilden Regional Park, 2481 Grizzly Peak Blvd. Orinda. Park at the Tilden Park Steam Trains lot (if open) or further up the road in a public lot. EBMUD property so no dogs.
3. Clark Kerr Fire Trail (official name) Derby Canyon Trail (unofficial), Berkeley
This hike starts with a long run of wooden steps painted to look like a piano keyboard (it has recently been refreshed, original artist unknown). Your long stair climb is rewarded by a hillside of poppies, lupines, tidy tips, clarkia and more. This whole area is the result of incredibly hard work by a group called Take To The Hills who built this native garden, maintain it, and continue to add plants. Have a seat (and a rest break) on one of the hillside benches and take in the view over Berkeley, the Bay, and beyond. You can continue uphill and connect to many more trails (including the Upper and Lower Jordan Fire Trails) for a longer hike.
Clark Kerr Fire Trail: Derby Canyon is at the top of Dwight Way, just past the turn for Sports Lane. Street parking on Dwight Way.
4. Tilden Regional Park, Seaview Trail, Berkeley
This is a beautiful hike with great views in all directions that is very popular, especially with dog owners. There are loads of lupine bushes, poppies, paintbrush, mule’s ears, and other wildflowers that bloom throughout the spring. I love to take an unofficial or “social trail” that heads uphill to the left about two miles into this hike. In May there are lots of Ithuriel’s spear, fiddlenecks, paintbrush, baby blue eyes, sticky monkey, and more up in an open meadow above the main Seaview Trail. Be forewarned: this is a pretty steep uphill climb and I’d consider it a fairly difficult hike.
Charles Lee Tilden Regional Park: 780 Wildcat Canyon Road, Tilden Park, Berkeley. Park at the Quarry Trailhead lot.
Further afield (easiest to most difficult)
5. Ring Mountain Preserve, Phyllis Ellman Loop Trail, Tiburon
This is hands down my favorite place to go for wildflowers. The hike uphill is fairly moderate and the reward is great. Last year I visited every two weeks to document the progression of the bloom season (February through June). This is a very special public open space with serpentine rocks all over the hillside making it fertile with native plants not seen often elsewhere. In early spring, there are shooting stars, Oakland star tulips, native irises, Fremont’s camas, buttercups, and more. Later in April come the large blooms of gold fields, blue dicks, white yarrow, and Tiburon paintbrush, among others, and the rarely seen, utterly charming tidy tips.
But the real drama comes in late May when the Tiburon Mariposa lilies bloom. This flower grows in only one place on earth and that is Ring Mountain Preserve in Marin County. I was there last year several times during the bloom of this extremely rare flower and met people from all over who came to see (and photograph) it. Great views from up top and don’t miss Turtle Rock and some nearby petroglyphs.
Ring Mountain Preserve, Paradise Drive, Corte Madera. Roadside parking by the Phyllis Ellman Trailhead.
6. Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Antioch
This park is over 6,000 acres and contains what remains of three old coal-mining towns. There’s a lot to explore, but be sure to visit the old Rose Hill Cemetery by hiking uphill on the Nortonville Road Trail. Continue up to the Black Diamond Mine Trail where I have spotted both yellow and white mariposa lilies in May among many other wildflowers throughout the season. Black Diamond Mines Preserve is due north of Mt. Diablo and has lots of the same wildflowers with trails that are much less steep.
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Upper Parking Lot, 5175 Somersville Road, Antioch. Weekend fees.
7. Pt. Reyes National Seashore, Laguna Trailhead, Marin County
There are so many great hiking trails at Pt. Reyes but I like to take the Laguna Trail to Coast Camp and then head south on the Coastal Trail. You can make a loop by hiking back on the beach before returning up the Laguna Trail. Spring brings lots of flowers to this area plus great views of the ocean, shore birds and maybe some tidepool creatures.
Park in the Laguna Trailhead lot at the end of Laguna Road, off of Limantour Road.
8. Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Matt Davis, Steep Ravine, Dipsea Trails, Marin County
So many spectacular trails to choose from on Mt. Tam, but I’m a fan of making a loop by combining these three. Unfortunately, Steep Ravine has been closed for footbridge repairs, so check to see if it has been reopened. This time of year there are a wide variety of wildflowers along the trails in both the wooded and open meadow areas. Lots of trillium, hounds tongue, milk maids, buttercups, white mariposa lilies, and some woodland orchids.
Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Pantoll Ranger Station, 3801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley. Fee required.
9. Mt. Diablo State Park, Mitchell Canyon Trailhead, Clayton
Again, there are many places to start a hike all around Mt. Diablo, but I usually start at Mitchell Canyon parking area and head uphill. At the peak of the bloom season, there are a huge variety of wildflowers to see. Several years ago, during a five-hour hike, our group counted over 100 different types of flowers. Some unusual ones to hunt for here are checker lilies (fritillaria), larkspur, globe lilies, and mariposa lilies, though there are plenty of blue-eyed grass, paintbrush, poppies, and so many more.
Mount Diablo State Park, 96 Mitchell Canyon Rd., Clayton. Fee required.