The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster, California, Los Angeles County, experiences a superbloom following the drenching winter. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty])

California’s Superbloom Is Visible from Outer Space: Ask NASA

California’s wild storms and wet weather have resulted in dazzling displays of wildflowers, some peaking and others ready to pop. Here’s how to see one before it’s too late.


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California’s wildflower blooms are so big and bright this year that they can be seen from space, images from NASA’s Landsat 9 satellite show.

“The seasonal spectacle was visible,” NASA Earth Observatory wrote, showing images of desert flowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument in Southern California as seen on April 6.

A series of devastating winter storms in the state have given way to a historic “superbloom,” a natural phenomenon that occurs when high precipitation causes dormant seeds in deserts and dry grasslands to germinate.

wildflowers southern calif
The superbloom this month at Carrizo Plain National Monument, near Santa Margarita, Southern California, could be seen from a long way away. (Photo: David McNew/Getty)

The massive burst of yellow, orange, and purple flowers is only possible after consecutive dry years, which allow seeds to accumulate underground.

“A very wet year—like the year we are having now—could trigger germination of all these seeds at once, leading to a superbloom,” said Jennifer Funk, a professor of plant sciences at University of California, Davis, in a news release.

In addition to California poppies, this year’s bloom includes other flowers, such as purple owl’s clovers, desert candles, cardinal catchflies, and island morning glories, to name a few.

On top of being a source of beauty, wildflowers support ecosystems by providing food for herbivores and minimizing erosion.

“Wildflowers are one of the most important resources we have to ensure the resilience of California’s grasslands,” UC Davis plant sciences professor Valerie Eviner said in the release. “They are our emergency first responders when grasses fail–whether due to fire, drought, or soil disturbance.”

poppies merced river canyon
Poppies in the Merced River Canyon, outside of Yosemite, in 2021: they were this beautiful even in a normal year, while 2023 is revving up to be great. Wildflowers in Northern California have not yet exploded like many in So Cal. Watch the next few weeks. (Photo: Tony McDaniel/Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau)

The last California superbloom happened in 2019. That year, “Disneyland-size crowds,” according to the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, trampled fields of flowers in pursuit of photos and Instagram selfies. One couple landed a helicopter in the middle of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

“It’s really important to visit them respectfully,” said Eviner. “Each flower we crush from a selfie is a lost opportunity to rebuild the seed bank for the next superbloom. So stay on the trails.”

Carrizo Plain National Monument, the area observed by NASA, is just turning the corner, such that the Theodore Payne Foundation Wild Flower hotline advises, “Visit soon as the region is beginning the downside of peak bloom.”

Goldfields and California poppies have exploded in a number of places in Southern California. (Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty)

Where to go to see a superbloom

The Channel Islands, Southern California

Drawing parallels with the Galápagos Islands, The Channel Islands are a diverse treasury found just off the Southern California coast. The area boasts enormous plant as well as animal species, and the flowers are going off now.

Pinnacles National Park, Central California

See rare birds as well as wildflowers at Pinnacles National Park. As the Theodore Payne Foundation Wild Flower hotline says, “Young raptors will soon be taking their first flight and that event is eagerly anticipated. In the meantime, new wildflowers are popping up everywhere along trails and vistas.”

Los Padres National Forest, Southern and Central California

Figueroa Mountain Road, damaged by storm, in Los Padres National Forest is under repair and may open soon. Wildflowers are showing at lower elevations, as far as the road is open, and are yet to appear at the higher elevations.

Poppies and other wildflowers light up the hillsides at Chino Hills State Park, the Santa Ana Mountains, Southern California, this month. (Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty)

Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California

The washes are coming alive in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park, where you find wildflowers from late February or early March to early May. Fall blooms also occur throughout the park.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Southern California

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, says, is “located on California’s most consistent poppy-bearing land.” It is now aglow with goldfields and California poppies, and more poppies are expected to appear in the coming weeks.

Mount Tamalpais State Park, Northern California

The Facebook page for Mount Tamalpais State Park, says with humor, “Though [they are] not visible from space,’ we do have some superb blooms.”

wild poppies bloom
The great superbloom of 2019: wild poppies covered the hillsides near Lake Elsinore, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty)

Yosemite National Park, Northern California

Outside of the snow-swathed Yosemite National Park, at lower elevations such as Mariposa, wildflower blooms are well underway, with California poppies opening. The Merced River Canyon, also outside of park borders, is famed for its wildflower blooms, which are likely to explode in the next few weeks. High in Yosemite, at sites such as at Glacier Point, wildflowers may bloom into June and July.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

In Arizona, the poppies have come out in full in the stream- and snowmelt-fed Catalina State Park. They are just now about to fade in the warmer temperatures and give way to non-poppy blooms.

wildflowers arizona
At Catalina State Park, Arizona, the poppies have put on a show and are about to give way to non-poppy blooms. (Photo: Arizona State Parks and Trails)

Be a conscientious visitor

The NPS gives these tips for wildflower viewing:

Look low.

Move slowly.

Stay on the trail.

Take no flowers, only pictures.

Isabella Rosario is an Assistant Editor at Outside. She is based in southeast Iowa and is glad to turn from tornado watches to wildflower viewing.