Spring has sprung, and the wildflowers are here! Spectacular color displays are dotting hillsides and wilderness areas across the nation. It’s time to hop in the car and experience the blooms while they last.
Although sightseers can spot wildflowers year-round, they’re most abundant during the spring due to the influx of sunlight after months of rain or snow. Road trips are a good way to get outside, see the sights, and cover a lot of ground.
While there are plenty of options for locations to view the flowers, not all road trips are created equal. Here, we’ve rounded up five of the best U.S. road trips for viewing wildflowers as well as favorite places to stop, the types of flowers you can expect to see, and the best times to visit.
Key Items to Bring
- Camera for documenting your sightings (could be a smartphone camera or a DSLR)
- Hiking boots for exploring on foot
- Field guide for identifying flowers
- Binoculars for birding and faraway views
- Water bottle (gotta have the H2O)
- Backpack for stashing all the essentials
Best Spring Road Trips for Wildflower Viewing
George Washington Memorial Parkway: Virginia & Maryland
Spanning approximately 27 miles across Virginia and Maryland, the Georgia Washington Memorial Parkway is a drive through history with scenic views along the way.
The drive follows the Potomac River and passes George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, the U.S. Capitol, the Arlington National Cemetery, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and many other historical locations.
During the springtime, over 500 species of wildflowers have been documented along the highway, with the most spectacular showing in Turkey Run Park. In the park, the Potomac Heritage Trail offers a variety of popular hikes, with an assortment of flowers such as the Virginia bluebells, purple spring cress, and blue phlox along the way.
For the best chance of viewing the wildflowers, visit between mid-to-late March to mid-to-late April.
Newfound Gap Road: North Carolina & Tennessee
Beginning at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and finishing at the Mountain Farm Museum, the 34-mile road traverses through the famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The drive takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes depending on how many detours you make. Popular stopping points include the Campbell Overlook, Chimney Tops Picnic Area, Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome Road, Smokemont Campground, Mingus Mill, and Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
If you visit during the springtime, you’ll be treated to views of mountain laurels, catawba rhododendron, flame azalea, and an assortment of other wildflowers along the way.
Flowers can be spotted anytime between February and September, but to maximize your chances, visit between early spring and early summer.
Joshua Tree National Park: California
Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is known for its stark desert landscape, rugged rock formations, and the Joshua trees from which it gets its name.
To make the most of a day at the park, begin at the Cottonwood Visitor Center and drive the 50-mile road through the park to the town of Joshua Tree. Popular stopping points along the way include Cottonwood Spring, Ocotillo Patch, Chollo Cactus Garden, Arch Rock, Skull Rock, and Barker Dam. The timing and expanse of the wildflower blooms depend on fall and winter precipitation levels and spring temperatures.
Flowers typically begin to bloom at lower elevations in February and at higher elevations in March and April. Popular sightings include the desert paintbrush, Utah firecracker, evening primrose, Mojave aster, grizzly bear prickly pear cactus, and many others.
Texas Hill Country: Texas
The Texas Hill Country is home to a variety of landscapes such as rolling hills, rocky canyons, grasslands, woodlands, and savanna that is dotted with small towns, secluded swimming holes, and, of course, wildflowers.
While there are many options for road trips in the Hill Country, a popular choice is to begin in Austin and work your way the 45 miles across the countryside to Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. Must-see stops along the way are the Hamilton Pool Preserve, LBJ State Park and Historic Site, Enchanted Rock State National Area, Cave Without a Name, and Guadalupe River State Park.
Although wildflowers can be seen along the entire drive in the spring, the Willow City Loop is a big hit during the spring months, as there are wildflowers aplenty. On the hike, you’ll likely encounter bluebonnets, coreopsis, sunflowers, firewheels, and many more.
Primetime for blooms tends to be during March, April, and May.
Columbia River Highway: Oregon
Completed in 1921, the Columbia River Highway was one of the first U.S. highways designed for scenic touring. The 350-mile highway begins in Astoria and ends in Pendleton, passing through temperate rainforest and by maples, conifers, ferns, and a collection of wildflowers.
There is much to see along the route, but highlights include a collection of jaw-dropping waterfalls: LaTourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oneonta Falls, and Horsetail Falls.
You can spot flowers all along the route, but an especially good place to see them is in Hood River, specifically along the Mosier Plateau Trail.
Hundreds of species of wildflowers have made the Columbia River Gorge their home, including the Columbia kittentail, long-beard hawkweed, balsamroot, lupine, Howell’s daisy, northern wormwood, smooth desert parsley, and many more.