Wildflower Season Arrives in Yosemite National Park

by Lauren Boisvert

Wildflower season is upon us in Yosemite National Park. The park features beauties like the tufted poppy, spreading phlox, popcorn flower, monkeyflowers, redbud, and so many more. Yosemite is a canvas of color in the spring, and we’re just now getting into the season. Here’s a quick guide to the flowers you can see at high and low elevations, plus the best trails to see the blooms.

Wildflower Season at Low Elevation

Flowers in the west of the park, where elevation is lower, start to bloom in March. Merced River canyon explodes with color, specifically on the Hite Cove trail. There are fields of tufted poppies, spider lupines, fiddlenecks, popcorn flowers, owl’s clover, and redbuds.

By May, you can see shooting stars, showy milkweed, cow parsnip, western azalea, pine violets, evening primrose, seep-spring monkeyflower, Applegate’s paintbrush, baby blue eyes, bird’s eyes, larkspur, and dogwood. Later, there’s goldenrod, Sierra lessingia, sneezeweed, and woolly mule-ears, according to the National Park Service.

Best Low Elevation Trails for Wildflowers

The Hite Cove Trail, which is about 8.5 miles outside of Yosemite, is 2 to 4 miles if you’re looking to just explore the wildflowers, and 9 miles round trip if you’re looking to go to Hite Cove. It can take 1 to 5 hours to complete and is relatively moderate hiking. Hite Cove Trail is the motherlode of wildflowers, especially the tufted poppy, and it can get pretty crowded during peak season.

Cook’s Meadow Loop in the Yosemite Valley is great for flower viewing. The trail is a 1-mile loop on flat terrain, and begins at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. In addition to wildflowers, you can also see Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock.

The Wawona Meadow Loop in Wawona is also a great trail for wildflowers. The trail is 3.5 miles and takes about 2 hours; it begins at the Wawona Hotel.

Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy is a moderate trail, a round-trip of about 5 miles that takes 2 hours. It begins at O’Shaughnessy Dam and follows the reservoir to the base of Wapama Falls. In addition to wildflowers and Wapama Falls, this trail gives you great views of Tueelala Falls as well.

Wildflower Season at Higher Elevation

High up near Glacier Point Road, more wildflowers bloom later in the season. With an extremely high elevation, some flowers poke up through the remaining layers of snow, such as the snow plant. According to the National Park Service, mountain pride, spreading phlox, sulfur buckwheat, mouse-tail, mountain pennyroyal, sandwort, red and yellow monkeyflowers, Sierra forget-me-nots, and pretty face bloom in the granite gravel of the mountains.

Additionally, you can find corn lily, monkshood, shooting stars, arrowleaf groundsel, leopard lily, rein orchids, marsh marigold, and great red paintbrush in wet areas like stream banks. In the forests, look for groundsel, lupines, red columbine, wallflower, coralroot orchid, dogbane, mariposa lily, and wild strawberry.

Best High Elevation Trails for Wildflowers

All the trails at higher elevations are along the Glacier Point Road, which is the only car access to the trailheads. It opens around late May or early June and closes in November.

McGurk Meadow is home to wonderful wildflowers, as well as an old cabin. The McGurk Meadow trail is about 1.8 miles of moderate round-trip hiking, and takes about 30 minutes to an hour. Beyond the meadow are the Bridalveil Creek and Dewey Point trails.

Taft Point is also home to amazing high altitude wildflowers; at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead, turn left for Taft Point and The Fissures. The trail is about 2.2 miles round-trip and takes 2 hours. Not only does Taft Point offer incredible wildflowers, but the views from Taft or the Fissures are unbeatable. There is the added excitement of there being no guardrails around Taft Point, unlike Glacier Point, so be sure to watch your step.

Sentinel Dome is also home to great swaths of wildflowers, and, like Taft Point, is also 2.2 miles and takes about 1 to 2 hours. The Taft Point views are probably only surpassed by Sentinel Dome’s; plus, it’s also home to the legendary fallen Jeffrey pine. The pine appeared in a 1940 Ansel Adams photo, before dying of drought in 1977 and falling over in 2003.

Currently, Glacier Point Road is closed until May 2023 due to restoration efforts on the road. According to the National Park Service, the only ways to get to Glacier Point will be the strenuous Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails.