There's really no such thing as a bad year for wildflowers.
Some are more glorious than others.
So far, 2013 hasn't been a great year for spring color displays. But there's still time, according to Sierra National Forest botanist Joanna Clines.
"It really could go either way," Clines said from her office in North Fork. "If we get some good rain this month, it could be beautiful. But it was looking pretty dry for a while."
Extended dry periods, such as the ones the region experienced this winter, aren't ideal for wildflowers, which thrive when regularly spaced rains keep the ground moist. Warm weather is also a plus.
There are some places that get regular blooms regardless of the conditions. Except you might see a field of orange California poppies instead of an entire hillside.
"It's really not bursting out there yet," Clines said. "But it's about to open. I'd expect the next few weekends will begin to show some nice color."
Here are some of the best spots to sample nature's color palette:
Hite Cove Trail, Sierra National Forest
More than 50 wildflower varieties grow along the South Fork of the Merced River, but it's the golden poppies that stand out. From Savage's Trading Post, 22 miles east of Mariposa on Highway 140, it's a 4.2-mile hike to Hite Cove, an abandoned mining settlement. The best blooms are typically in the first 2 miles.
"It's early, but the poppies are looking pretty good," Clines said.
More info: (559) 877-2218; fs.usda.gov/sierra
San Joaquin River Gorge, Bureau of Land Management
Popcorn flower and fiddlenecks are already blooming in abundance with poppies, lupine and several other species ready to go off at a moment's notice. This time of year, even buckbrush is in a flowery mood. There's some nice color along the trail that runs from the campground down to the bridge as well as the upper sections of the San Joaquin River Trail.
More info: (559) 855-3492; website
Paradise Creek Trail, Sequoia National Park
Spring has definitely sprung in the Sequoia foothills with poppies, fiddlenecks, popcorn flower and red bud already showing their colors. Park at Hospital Rock Picnic Area along Highway 198 and walk one paved mile to the trailhead located within Buckeye Flat Campground. Your pupils will get quite a workout before the trail dead-ends after 2 miles.
More info: (559) 565-4212; nps.gov/seki
Upper Kings River, Sierra National Forest
The long, winding drive around Pine Flat Lake is especially worth it this time of year. Drive to the end of Garnet Dike Road and stroll along the Kings River, hike the Bear Wallow interpretive trail or do as Clines suggests and drive up unpaved Big Creek Road.
"It's always been one of my favorite places," Clines said. "The creek is pretty and there's always lots of stuff blooming."
More info: (559) 855-5355; fs.usda.gov/sierra
Carrizo Plain National Monument, BLM
Mid-March to April is typically the best time for wildflower viewing at this 250,000-acre area in eastern San Luis Obispo County. Reports indicate the season is off to a slow start, but with some rain that could change in a hurry. From Fresno, take Highway 41 South to Interstate 5 South to Highway 58 West. Check the website for detailed driving directions and don't rely on mapping software or GPS.
More info: (760) 786-3200; website
Panoche Hills, BLM
The desert-like foothills of western Fresno County shouldn't be overlooked this time of year. From Interstate 5, take the Mercey Hot Springs exit (County Road J-1/Little Panoche Road) and continue west past the Little Panoche detention dam. Before reaching Mercey Hot Springs, you'll see the entrance to Panoche Hills on the left.
More info: (831) 630-5000; website