Wildflower lovers know when and where their favorites will show up, from coastal hills to mountain meadows. Here are some spots that put on a spectacular show. Call ahead for this year's peak viewing times.
Wasatch-Cache National Forest, near Salt Lake City. Located in Little Cottonwood Canyon beneath the snow of the Alta ski resort, the basin becomes a kaleidoscope of brilliant color in July and early August. (801) 524-3900, fs.usda.gov/uwcnf.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Near Lancaster, Calif. In spring, the 1,745-acre high-desert state reserve blazes with California's state flower, the golden poppy. Optimal viewing is about mid-April; seven miles of trails wind through the state's most consistent poppy-bearing plot. (661) 724-1180, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627.
Bear Valley Ranch
Williams, Calif. Throughout the spring, fields may teem with tidytips, and sometimes the rare pink adobe lily with bell-shaped flowers can be seen. The ranch is private property, but you can see the flowers from Bear Valley Road. (916) 444-2096, www.alcnet.org/projects/overview/california/bear.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
San Luis Obispo County, Calif. From mid-March through May, the basin is transformed into a giant bowl of color, chock-full of baby blue eyes, sunflower-like monolopia, lavender phacelia, and creamcups. Steve Edwards, director of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley, Calif., says, "An ant could walk from flower to flower and never touch the ground." (805) 475-2131, www.ca.blm.gov/bakersfield/carrizoplain.html.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Arco, Idaho. The seemingly barren black lava fields and cinder cones support more than 300 plant species. Stunning purple dwarf monkey flower, pink wild onion, and yellow dwarf buckwheat carpet the area in May and early June. (208) 527-3257, www.nps.gov/crmo.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon and Idaho. The deepest gorge in North America takes on brilliant colors from the Indian paintbrush, phlox, and nearly 20 species of penstemon that dot fluorescent green grasslands. Pay a visit in late May to early June, when wildflowers bloom at most elevations. In late April, check out Pittsburg Landing on the Idaho side; in late June, Hat Point and Hells Canyon Overlook on the Oregon side. (541) 426-4978, www.fs.fed.us/hellscanyon.
Ruby Mountains, Elko, Nev. Deep within northern Nevada's cowboy country lies a little-known botanical oasis. Lamoille Canyon has some of the richest wildflower meadows in spring. (800) 764-3359, http://www.rubymountains.net/#lamoille%20canyon.
Oroville, Calif. A mesa above the valley floor, this 3,400-acre preserve boasts waterfalls, grasslands, and vernal pools graced in spring by yellow monkey flower, brodiaea, clover, magenta owl's clover, and lupine. (800) 655-4653.
Tom McCall Preserve Rowena Plateau
Columbia River Gorge, Ore. Wildflower displays splash across this 271-acre plateau overlooking the Columbia River. Blooms are most abundant in April and May; you'll find yellow balsam- root and bright purple grass widows amid the mound-and-swale landscape, as well as species like the Hood River milk vetch that are unique to the gorge. (503) 230-1221, http://nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/oregon/preserves/art6809.html.