Like the heroines of 19th century literature, Arizona’s wildflowers can be capricious, fickle and temperamental.
But when conditions are just so, these heroines, both literary and botanical, are breathtakingly memorable.
Depending on rainfall and temperatures, wildflower displays throughout Arizona can range from so-so to spectacular. One of the best ways to see these colorful beauties is to take a hike.
Here are a few trails statewide that usually yield good wildflower sightings.
Wildflower Hikes in Phoenix and Central Arizona
In Central Arizona, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale covers more than 21,000 acres, linked by 60 miles of trails.
A good bet for wildflowers is the northern portion of Tom’s Thumb Trail. (Visitors currently have to use temporary parking until trailhead construction is completed in the summer of 2012.)
It is a steep, strenuous, 2.5-mile trek to the top, but the path leads you through the north-facing slopes of this Sonoran Desert mountain preserve, which typically get more rainfall – and, as a result, more blooms.
Look for Mexican gold poppies, brittlebush, blue dicks, globemallows and desert marigolds from late February through March.
The second largest lake within Arizona, Lake Pleasant, with 10,000 surface acres, is surrounded by low desert hills that are often covered with wildflowers during February and March.
Join a park docent for a guided wildflower hike at this regional park northwest of Peoria. If water levels are up, on the two-mile-long, easy to moderate Pipeline Canyon Trail you’ll cross a cove on a floating bridge.
Keep your eyes peeled not only for fiddlenecks, owl’s clover, lupines and Mexican gold poppies, but for wild burros that make guest appearances at the lake as well.
Near the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park is usually a hot spot for February and March wildflowers.
The park participates in the Ranger Cam program – with rangers and volunteers posting photos on Arizona State Parks’ Web site detailing flowers and locations. (The Ranger Cam program also provides information for Arizona State Parks’ wildflower hotline: (602) 542-4988.)
Try Lost Dutchman’s 2.5-mile Treasure Loop, an easy to moderate trek into the foothills of the Superstitions. Along the trail you can usually spot chuparosa, fairy dusters, lupines, brittlebush and Mexican gold poppies plus take in views of Four Peaks to the north.
Wildflower Hikes in Tucson and Southern Arizona
In Southern Arizona, you can often see brilliant Mexican gold poppies covering the slopes of Picacho Peak State Park as you zip along nearby Interstate 10.
Pull off the freeway to get up close and personal with the poppies, as well as the lupines and globemallows that also dot this 3,700-acre park in late February and March.
Picacho’s Sunset Vista Trail, a moderate to strenuous, 3.1-mile hike to the top of the craggy peak, gets you in the wildflowers and rewards with 360-degree views.
For one weekend every March (March 10–11 in 2012), wildflower lovers share Picacho with history buffs as the park hosts the annual Civil War in the Southwest, a reenactment of the 1862 engagement at the site, the westernmost battle of the Civil War.
Further south, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, is a vast, 330,000-acre park that skirts the border of Mexico.
In between viewing the park’s stands of sculptural organ pipe cacti and numerous swaths of saguaro, desert tours here will lead you to wildflower displays, particularly from mid-February through early April.
Off the park’s Ajo Mountain Drive, try the Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture Trail loop, a 4.1-mile moderate to strenuous climb through volcanic canyons and swaths of desert chickory, chuparosa, Mexican gold poppies, brittlebush, lupines and scorpionweed.
Wildflower Hikes in Arizona’s West Coast Region
Along Arizona’s West Coast, you can swim, boat and fish at Cattail Cove State Park on the shores of Lake Havasu.
If you want to see those February and March wildflowers, take a hike with a local naturalist or hit the park’s Whytes Retreat Trail on your own.
The moderate, three-mile roundtrip trail mostly hugs the lakeshore, giving you good views of this lower Colorado River ecology, including drifts of brittlebush, scorpionweed, desert chickory, sand verbena, Mexican gold poppies and lupines.
Bring your binoculars, as the park is also great birding territory.
Wildflower Hikes in Northern and North Central Arizona
Wildflowers bloom later in North Central and Northern Arizona’s higher elevations.
If you’re planning any vacations in Sedona, Arizona’s Red Rock Country, try visiting in late March through early May for optimal wildflower displays.
The 4.2-mile, moderate Courthouse Butte Loop Trail in Coconino National Forest’s Red Rock District, should be part of your Sedona desert tour, not only for the sweeping vistas of spectacular rock formations (bring your camera), but for the closer views of globemallow, penstemons, milkvetch, Indian paintbrush, creamcups and owl’s clover.
Just north of Flagstaff, The Nature Conservancy’s Hart Prairie Preserve offers an easy, three-mile roundtrip trail through a 245-acre prairie at the base of the landmark San Francisco Peaks.
Surrounded by Bebb willows and aspens, the preserve is abloom with yellow columbine, penstemons, mariposa lily, scarlet gilia and deer’s ear, particularly in August and early September, when summer rains encourage blossoms.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch glimpses of deer, elk or porcupines.
During summer and fall, take a free, guided walk on Sunday mornings, or make an appointment to walk the preserve on your own.