How to Responsibly See the Wildflowers Bloom This Spring, According to Experts

Nobody wants to be *that* park visitor.

The warm air is starting to tickle your cheeks. The sun’s rays are beating down just a little warmer, and off in the distance, you can hear the distinct and utterly adorable sound of freshly hatched baby birds chirping as they await their daily worm. Yes, spring is nearly here, and with it, comes fantastic wildflower blooms, which remind us all that new beginnings are around the corner. But, before you pack up your camera and your hiking boots to see those blooms, there are a few things you need to consider — including the fact that some of the most famous wildflowers in America are currently off-limits. 

The golden poppies made their annual appearance in Lake Elsinore, California, in early February, a sight that typically attracts thousands of snap-happy visitors. But this year, local officials closed key trails to see them, citing safety concerns. 

According to The Los Angeles Times, officials closed all trails to Walker Canyon, after visitors trampled the blooms in 2019, potentially destroying root systems for years to come. 

“Back in 2019, numerous safety incidents occurred on the trails and on our roadways,” Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson told The Los Angeles Times. “Tens of thousands of people, as many as 100,000 in a weekend — people of Disneyland-sized crowds — were seeking to experience nature. They trampled the very habitat that they placed so high in regard and sought to enjoy.”

How can we do better? It’s simple. A few experts gave Travel + Leisure tips to responsibly visiting wildflowers, and it all comes down to respecting natural spaces.

“Each park has unique landscapes, and late winter and early spring are great times to visit, especially desert sites,”  a spokesperson for the National Parks Service (NPS) shared in a statement released to T+L.  "These public lands are visited by millions of people each year. Most are angling for incredible photos, but getting too close to the wildflowers and crushing them can ruin the experience for others and can damage the flowers themselves.” 

Here are a few easy-to-follow tips that will allow you to both see these special flowers in full bloom, and leave them safe for generations to come. 

Stay on marked paths

“Going off a marked path to make a shortcut or to have a look can decrease plant diversity. Others will follow, resulting in disturbing plants and soil compaction, making it more difficult for rainwater to absorb,” Alice Kong, the director of the North American Native Plant Society, explained. “It fragments habitat. It increases the number of places that invasive seeds can be carried into, making management more difficult.” 

Kong added, once trampled, woodland species can take a long time to recover. Some habitats are especially vulnerable, for example, “alvars, which have a thin layer of soil, and dunes, which are held in place by grass roots.” 

Think creatively about your photos

Rather than trying to recreate an image you’ve seen on Instagram and destroying precious ecosystems in the process, do as the professionals like photographer Elisabeth Brentano do, and aim to capture a new perspective. 

“Get creative when it comes to your perspective. For example, get low and snap close-up shots of flowers, and play around with depth of field and focus to create a unique aesthetic,” Brentano shared. “Or, use a selfie stick/monopod with a wide-angle lens to take photos above the flowers, so you don’t have to venture off the trail. When it comes to photographing people, look for sections of trail that curve. Not only does this create eye-catching leading lines, but if your subject walks ahead of you on the trail, you’ll have more opportunities to incorporate flowers in the foreground.” 

Be cautious about what you share on social media

While nobody is advocating for gatekeeping cool locations, you may want to think twice about posting images in real-time and getting too specific with a geotag. This can help stave off huge crowds in one location, allowing for more disbursement in others. 

“If an area isn’t well-equipped to handle a surge in visitation (i.e., ample parking, restrooms, clearly marked trails), it’s best not to share it on Instagram with a location tag,” Brentano added. “Offering vague location information in your caption is fine, but you can’t control who sees location tags — or what they might do when they visit a place. And as tempting as it is to post in real-time, consider waiting a few days or weeks, as not to encourage a mad rush to a park or preserve during the peak bloom.”

The NPS agrees, with its spokesperson adding, “We get that people want to share their beautiful flower pics with the world, but it may be best for folks to not tag their specific locations on social media. Doing so can overwhelm a particular location. Larger groups of visitors to an area equals a bigger potential impact to that area. Keep in mind that not all parks have the infrastructure, such as parking or bathrooms, to handle a large influx of folks.” 

The spokesperson provided one more excellent tip for social posting, and that’s to follow the #RecreateResponsibly principles in social media posts. 

“Let others know in your social media post that you did not go off-trail to capture your images and didn’t damage any wildflowers. You can make a difference by spreading your knowledge and leading by example,” the spokesperson shared.  

If you can, time your visit to off-peak hours

Want to avoid the crowds and protect the flowers all at once? Try coming mid-week, as Brentano suggested. 

“If you want to avoid crowds, try to visit during the week, and earlier in the day is generally better,” she said. “Another tip: be sure to check the websites and social media channels of local parks and tourism offices, as they often have the latest information on parking, closures, the best places to see flowers, and even tips for responsible viewing.” 

Never, ever pick the flowers

Just as you should leave shells on the beach, the NPS would like to remind you to never, ever, under any circumstances, pick the flowers for either a photo or to take home with you. 

“Don’t pick flowers! Taking souvenirs from a national park is prohibited and not worth the fine,” the spokesperson said. “Besides, these places are habitats for hundreds of species, and taking flowers can negatively impact the ecosystem. Wildflowers attract pollinators and lead to seed production needed for subsequent seasons.” 

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