Waterfalls & Wildflowers

Mother Nature is putting on a show this spring

Gorgeous, rainbow blooms; loud, cascading waterfalls; lush green hills brimming with colors—spring is the time to get out in nature and indulge in the luminous super blooms, wildflower bursts, and more. This time of year is when many of the most magnificent florals come to life across California hillsides and the water flows most freely at our favorite waterfalls. San Joaquin County is home to its own blooms in nearby parks, but it’s just a small sampling of California’s hotspots. So, head out on a hike or drive to one of the gardens for a spectacular display of nature at its finest.

Fioli

Woodside

Fioli is a 16-acre property dedicated to year-round outdoor activities and floral displays. About 25 miles south of San Francisco on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Fioli’s 16-acres of manicured gardens peak March-May. “It’s usually a pretty glorious time in the garden,” says Jim Salyards, director of horticulture at Fioli. “April is definitely our peak month for colors.”

            A visit during April all but promises tulips, peonies, and more than 50 wisteria vines, plus early roses—Fioli will see more than 5,000 roses at its peak in mid-May. And then there are the bedding plants: vibrant shades of pansies, violas, foxgloves, columbine, and lavender growing each spring.

            Those who visit will get the chance to explore the four main gardens, surrounding the properties’ ornate country home. The most intense display is in the sunken garden that runs north to south along the house. There are more than 5,000 plants in that section, with approximately 400-600 tulips blooming in April. Jim describes it best as an explosion of color. Each section has its own offerings within the greater garden area, with an impressive panel garden, rose garden, fruit garden, and cutting garden (reserved for the floral arrangements inside of the on-site mansion). Expert Tip: To enjoy the grounds, and the deer who visit, take the one-mile estate trail that loops round the nature center and nature museum while winding through the wildflowers.

Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $11 for kids, and  free under 5 years old. All four gardens are open 10 AM-5 PM daily, and tours of the downstairs portion of the mansion are also available.

Pageo Lavender Farms

Turlock

Not far outside the confines of San Joaquin County are the Pageo Lavender Farms in Turlock, a gorgeous, rustic event venue open to visitors, as well as available for weddings and other parties. The working farm grows fields full of lavender to use in its products including soaps, lotions, and linen sprays. But even more beautiful to see than it is to smell, the open space glows purple every June when the flowers are in full bloom. There are two types of lavender that make up the farm—grosso and lodden blue. The grosso especially is used for making aromatherapy products, lending to an overwhelming yet pleasant smell on the farm.

            The best way to visit the farms is with a boxed lunch. This allows access to the blooms and gift shop, plus gourmet sandwiches and side salads to enjoy on the grounds. Stop in for decadent options including the summer blueberry, mango, strawberry chicken salad or passion pear made with turkey, bacon, and pineapple cream cheese. Visit 10 AM-4 PM, Tuesday through Friday, or call ahead to book a lunch. 11573 Golf Link Rd., Turlock, (209) 632-5052.

Emerald Pools

Nevada County

A small trek outside of San Joaquin County in Nevada County, you’ll find a secluded waterfall feeding a batch of emerald pools. The area gets its name from the turquoise-green waters that resemble an exotic location, but we warn you—the emerald pools are a hidden gem not easy to find.

            Located on Jordan Creek and the South Yuba River, the emerald pools sit 4,200 feet above sea level in the Tahoe National Forest. Once you’re there, you’ll notice a series of small swimming holes and short hiking trails. Just below Lake Spaulding is the crown jewel. Follow a trail to slot canyons, waterfalls, and pools where you’ll likely run into other hikers during the summer months. In spring you’re more likely to see the roaring falls, water cascading down from Lake Spaulding two miles above. In summer, it slows to a trickle.

            The trip is short in distance but can take a while due to the steep elevation and rocky-rough terrain. Keep your eye on trail markers left by previous adventurers or on another group of hikers if you’re lucky. This will help you make your way to the emerald pools at the end of the granite butte without getting lost. While spring offers the best views of the waterfall, it’s not the most ideal time to swim. For a safer trip visit in late summer when the water has calmed and you can wade into the pools without risking your life.

Wildflower Train

Jamestown

Nearby in Tuolumne County, Jamestown is home to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Here, folks can catch a train through the nearby wildflower hills. During a naturalist presentation before the ride, which takes off on select weekend afternoons in April only, visitors can learn about the flowers visible in the Sierra Nevada foothills before setting off aboard a real train to view colorful blooms bursting throughout California Gold Country on a six-mile, one-hour roundtrip tour. Tickets are $20 for adults, $14 for youth, and free for children ages five and younger. Visit Railtown1897.org for updates and dates.

Crystal Hermitage

Nevada City

Crystal Hermitage is part of Ananda Village and Ananda International, a spiritual community located about 30 minutes from downtown Nevada City. The quaint community opens its gardens year round for visitors, acting as a tranquil space to meditate alongside the property’s spiritual vibrations or simply walk the grounds admiring the floral phenomenon. April at Crystal Hermitage is peak tulip season. During this time, more than 17,000 tulips create a rainbow hillside. It’s easily the most popular time of year to visit the gardens—last April saw more than 13,500 visitors—as tulips takeover for a brief period of time before giving way to the other florals planted on site.

It took 20 years to get the gardens where they are today. What started as a smattering of bulbs being planted each year slowly grew to an outrageous display of tulips honoring the founder of Ananda, the late Swami Kriyananda. Crystal Hermitage has gardeners and volunteers who plant pansies, wisteria, rhododendrons, azaleas, and peonies in the spaces between and surrounding the tulips, plus dogwood and cherry trees. In summer the tulips fade and are instead replaced by geraniums, marigolds, roses, fuchsias, dahlias, and hibiscus.

While guests visit, they can also step inside the on-site temple, tour part of the property’s home, and take the walking path through the gardens past statues, a swimming pool, and more. Visiting during tulip season costs $8 per person but is free the rest of the year. The upper gardens are open daily year round from 10 AM to 5 PM and the lower garden is open 10 AM to 12:30 P.M. and 1:45 to 5 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. 14618 Tyler Foote Rd., Nevada City, (530) 478-7587, CrystalHermitage.org

Yosemite Waterfalls

Yosemite

There are no shortage of waterfalls in Yosemite, and with its accommodation options from camping to luxurious hotels, it’s not hard to visit a few. Which falls you want to visit might depend on skill level and comfortability with hiking, but with more than 25 options for visiting falls within Yosemite, you won’t soon run out of options.

Among the most impressive are Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park (here, the upper falls drop nearly 2,500 feet into the lower fall) actually made up of three falls; 620-foot high Bridalveil Fall, boasting a year-round flow that many falls don’t see and easily visible at the entrance to the park; Wapama, a 1,400-foot fall that requires a bit of a hike to visit; and the 594-foot Nevada Fall, which you can hike to by taking the steep trail from Vernal Fall to Nevada Fall.

            The second largest falls behind Yosemite Falls is Sentinel Falls, a series of six major drops totaling 1,920 feet, that ranks somewhere between the twelfth and sixteenth highest waterfall in the world (depending on the list). The Staircase Falls (1,300 feet) are a popular choice for visitors who want to see the series of ephemeral falls running off of Glacier Point behind Camp Curry. Glacier Point, Bridalveil, and Mirror Lake all offer easy trails for hikers scouting waterfalls, while Chilnualna Falls is a bit more work. The harder trails take you to falls such as Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite.

San Antonio Falls Overlook/San Antonio Creek Falls

Stanislaus Forest

A bit closer to home, the 17.5-mile Arnold Rim Trail offers its own waterfall in Calaveras County. Close to a stream inside the Stanislaus forest, a waterfall cascades over granite mountains above. To get to the falls you’ll only have to hike about three miles into a canyon. Once you hit the end of the trail, climb up the rocks for views of the falls. As an added bonus, this trek will give you a little bit of everything. During spring and early summer, the path is often awash with wildflowers, too, so you can get both of Mother Nature’s springtime joys in one place.

San Francisco Botanical Gardens

San Francisco

One of the best ways to see a lot of wildflowers in one place is in an urban garden atmosphere. Just about every major city seems to have its own botanical gardens, but San Francisco’s are particularly impressive. Located at Strybing Arboretum inside Golden Gate Park, the 55-acre urban garden features nearly 9,000 types of plants. One bonus is that in addition to native plants, botanical gardens are known for featuring flora and fauna from all over the world.

            Within the gardens, guests can explore plant life from places as far away as Australia and New Zealand, as well as exotic growths from the Mediterranean and the Mesoamerican cloud forest. Plus, of course, blooms indigenous to California. The garden’s display of magnolias is especially impressive, although they tend to taper off in April after a mid-December to end-of-March blooming season. Expert Tip: Don’t leave the Bay Area without a stop by the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden or Regional Parks Botanical Gardens, both of which feature a rather impressive California natives section.

Tickets for the SF garden are $9-12 for adults, $6 for youth and seniors, and $2 for children ages 5-11. Kids under the age of five are free. 1199 9th Ave., San Francisco, (415) 661-1316, SFBG.org.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Lancaster

The California poppy is a coveted flower, illegal to pick and not always easy to find despite its designation as the state flower. These facts make the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Southern California even more spectacular to visit, boasting not only displays of the bright-orange florals, but other colorful blooms as well, lasting through May.

            There are eight miles of trails winding through the Mojave Desert park, hitting an elevation of 3,000 feet in some places. The high desert environment is prone to high winds, so checking the weather before making the trip is always a good idea. There are a few rules in place to protect the flowers, which include guests staying on the trails, no drones, no dogs, and NO picking the flowers.

            In addition to poppies, owl’s clover, lupine, goldfield, cream cups, and coreopsis bloom freely, creating a beautiful mosaic of color on the hillside, as well as a pleasant, floral aroma. While you’re there, visit the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center for wildlife and wildflower exhibits, a gallery of watercolor paintings, and an interpretive center all open through Mother’s Day. 15101 Lancaster Rd., Lancaster

Other Places to View:

Sometimes the best way to view the wildflowers is on a simple walk in a nearby park or on a hiking trail in a specific location. Check out these places for more options on where to view wildflowers.

  • Edgewood Park, San Mateo County
  • Bear Valley, Southern Lake County
  • Jepson Prairie Preserve, Dixon, Solano County

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