Fairy duster shrubs

6 Best Spots in Arizona to Photograph Wildflowers

By: Elizabeth Exline

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March 1, 2019

Every spring, Arizona dazzles the eye with wildflowers that pop up everywhere—from the side of the road to national forests. The natural beauty and brilliance are fleeting, but that’s why we have cameras and Instagram accounts. Here’s where to capture images of the best blooms of the season.

About the author

Elizabeth Exline

Elizabeth Exline

Elizabeth Exline is a freelance writer and editor whose articles have appeared in Sunset, Robb Report, LUXE and various other local, regional and national media.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park: Dynamite and Goldmine Trails

"Wildflower hunting is like a scavenger hunt that is forever changing," says Dawna Taylor, public information officer for Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department.

In Queen Creek, the San Tan Mountains' different elevations and temperatures foster a variety of flowers, from fiddlenecks to scorpionweed, whose lovely purplish blooms belie its fierce name. The best place to spot Mexican gold poppies, lupine and brittlebush is along the west side of the Dynamite Trail, starting from the Goldmine Trailhead, and on the northwest side of the rocky Goldmine Trail. Then, of course, there are the season's underdogs.

"There are dozens of different, smaller flowers that don't get the attention they deserve, like filaree and desert bluebells," adds Bruce Leadbetter, an expedition guide and owner of Phoenix-based 360 Adventures.

Catalina State Park: Sutherland Trail

Stretching some nine miles in one direction, Tucson's Sutherland Trail offers easy hiking for the first few miles and a bevy of wildflower blossoms. Look for cheerful Mexican gold poppies, lupine, fiddleneck, clusters of wild heliotrope, fairy duster shrubs, desert chicory, delicate cream cups, penstemon and owl's clover, all of which generally bloom February through mid-April.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: Waddell and Waterfall Trails

Both the Waddell and Waterfall Trails offer pleasant hikes in Maricopa County's largest regional park and are home to flowers like gilia, asters, desert chicory, popcorn flowers, blue fiesta flowers and dainty desert hideseed.

"The showy strawberry hedgehog cactus blooms along the trails, typically starting in April," says Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, co-author of the wildflower photography book, "Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona's Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where and How."

Coconino National Forest: Fatman's Loop Trail

An easy hike with a memorable name, Fatman's Loop in Flagstaff offers impressive vistas, access to the forest's steepest trail, Elden Lookout Trail, and plenty of flora. Keep an eye out for little golden zinnia, phlox, the tiny but mighty rock cress, plus skunkbush, Indian paintbrush and prickly pear cactus.

Black Canyon National Recreation Trail: Emery Henderson Trailhead

Stretching 80 miles from Carefree Highway to the Prescott National Forest, this trail rewards hikers around mid-March with "dramatic, widespread wildflowers" at lower elevations, says Mariela Castaneda, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management Phoenix District Office.

First to bloom in February are lupine, followed by brittlebush, desert globemallow and owl's clover. As temperatures warm, the poppies, fiddleneck, scorpionweed, desert chicory, penstemon, chuparosa, daisies and sunflowers begin to carpet the ground. Then the saguaros, palo verde and ocotillo bloom, continuing through mid-May. To access the trailhead from Phoenix, take I-17 north, use exit 233, then go three miles west on New River Road.

Oracle State Park: Nature Trail

Situated at an elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level in the Catalina Mountains, Oracle State Park is a dream for procrastinators. Cooler temperatures mean a late start to wildflower season, around the end of March or mid-April, with another flowering season between late August and October. In addition to wildlife, you’re apt to encounter the mariposa lily in spring, desert lilacs, desert hyacinths, larkspur, morning glory, sand-verbena and poppies.


Picture This

Hiking to see wildflowers is one thing. Being able to photograph them well is another. So how do you impress your social-media friends with your flower finds? Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, co-author of the wildflower photography book, "Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona's Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, and How," lays it out below.

  • Get on the level with a handful of flowers, then fill your frame with them.
  • Position your camera so that light cascades over the subject from the back or the side, creating shadows for depth.
  • Block the wind, or create an impressionistic photo by slowing down your shutter speed and moving the camera with the wind.

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