Arizona Wildflowers Road Trip Guide
This Arizona Wildflowers road trip guide is based on my own person experience road tripping over 600 miles of Central/Southern Arizona in search of the best places to see the desert wildflowers. (Note: There is a clear winner!)
This road trip was conducted in late March 2019, and due to the mild temperatures, there are likely two full weeks before the peak of this Arizona wildflowers season. I found it fascinating how some areas have an abidance of wildflowers, while other tried-and-true places have very few.
As spring heats up, many of the wildflowers will wilt away, but that is just the first phase of spring in the desert. The next is the cacti blooms, which typically start in early April and last until mid to late May (some variety last into summer). Spring is a fantastic time to visit the Sonoran Desert as there is so much color from March until May. The Cacti blooms are incredibly unique and diverse, many indigenous to the Southwest.
Vehicle used for this Arizona Wildflower road trip was the 2019 Mazda CX-5
Mazda loaned me the CX-5 for this Arizona Wildflower road trip and I had a blast driving it around. This marvelous Mazda CX-5 is sporty and versatile, with good visibility and impressive features for the price. The second-row seats fold down providing nearly 60 cubic feet of space, perfect for this road tripper and all his gear. The CX-5 is Mazda’s most popular vehicle in the U.S., and after driving it for a week, I can see why.
Something else I appreciated was the gas millage. With AWD I averaged 25.5mpg after 3 fill ups. Interestingly, the car’s computer calculated my average to be 24.7mpg, but I manually calculated it, so one of us was wrong. If we spit the difference, that’s still over 25 MPG. This Signature model of the CX-5 has some get-up-and-go, another reason I was surprised by my better-than-average gas millage. This model is rated at 22mpg city and 27mpg highway and comes in at around $38,000.
Home Base: Phoenix
I did several day trips from Phoenix, but you could easily modify this trip to stay in Tucson, Superior or perhaps Scottsdale. During this trip I stayed at the new AC Hotel Phoenix Biltmore, right in the heart of town.
Arizona Wildflowers Region: Tucson and Globe/Superior
From Phoenix I headed south to Tucson. Then, I headed north via Hwy 79 toward Florence, then Superior and over to the Superstition Mountains and finally, back to Phoenix. This road trip was about 300 miles and a very long day. You may want to break it up by staying in Superior where they just opened a new boutique property called Hotel Magna.
Picacho Peak State Park
As you drive south on I-10, you simply can’t miss Picacho Peak, it towers 1,500 feet and looks down at the State Park below and beyond. There are lots of hiking trails that will provide wonderful views of the Valley as well as a sporadic sea of wildflowers. When I was there on March 22nd, it seemed that peak wildflower season is a couple weeks away.
Saguaro National Park (West Side)
There are two areas of Saguaro National Park, one on the west side of I-10 and one on the east side. I only went to the West side, which has a greater abundance of Saguaro, but not as mature as the ones on the east side, which are fewer in numbers, but are much older and larger. The Wildflower scene was not very good, however at the southwest corner of Kinney road and Hwy 86 there is a nice fields of wildflowers.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park is located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants (including lots of saguaros) and wildlife. The park provides many equestrian, hiking, and biking trails. During my visit I did not see many wildflowers, but there is seasonal water running with lots of birds and other active wildlife. I saw deer, as well as mountain lion paw prints near the shore of the seasonal creek. (Note: Just north of the park entrance on the east side of Hwy 77 I saw fields of wildflowers.)
Hwy 79 between Tucson and Florence
This was the best concentration of wildflowers I saw on this epic road trip day. Along Highway 79 ,at the sign that says ‘Florence 33 miles and Phoenix 98 miles,” is a field of yellow poppies and purple wildflowers. There is even a dirt road that skirts the highway that you can turn on to park the car and leisurely stroll to see all the blooming wildflowers.
Superior is an old mining town located off US 60 on the southern edge of the Superstition Mountains. While I did not see many wildflowers in the entire region, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum has a nice display, albeit I believe they likely spread seed to entice the butterflies. Heading back toward Phoenix I did notice the westbound lanes of US 60 are quite nice with a multitude of wildflower colors lining the road on both the right and left hand sides. (Note: I only noticed the wildflowers traveling the westbound lanes).
I did not make it to this area but have heard it is a good location for Southern Arizona Wildflowers. Located on the San Carlos Reservation, Peridot Mesa is swath of land often ablaze with poppy fields. In 2015, this was one of the top highlights for bloom chasers.
Lost Dutchman State Park (Canyon Lake)
On the Southwestern side of the Superstition Mountains I stopped by Silly Mountain, but didn’t see many wildflowers, so I headed to Lost Dutchman State Park, which had a decent display. While I did not drive the additional 10 miles to Canyon Lake, I have known this area to have a nice abundance of wildflowers as well. It’s a beautiful drive regardless. The light was waning so I had to skip this area.
Usery Mountain Park
I didn’t make it to this area as it was already dark as I headed back to Phoenix, but I have been here before and it’s a wonderful park. Reports are suggesting that it is a good year for Wildflowers at Usery Mountain Park.
Vulture Mountain Recreation Area
This is a known area for wildflowers, but unfortunately I found it to be pretty sporadic and not many in sight. I did find a few nice patches of poppies, but not really worth going if your primary objective is to see the Arizona Wildflowers.
US 60 and Hwy 93 just outside of Wickenburg
Both US 60 that heads toward Vulture Mountain Recreation area, and Wickenburg Way, just past the airport, have nice abundance of Arizona Wildflowers on display.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park
The drive along Hwy 77 past Lake Pleasant toward US 60 has some fantastic spots to stop and scout for wildflowers.
Region: Phoenix area
Black Canyon City and Bumble Bee
I did not make it to Black Canyon City, but reports say that it is a very favorable year for wildflowers in the area. I did however visit Bumble Bee, which is an exit off of I-17 five miles north of Black Canyon City and it was full of wildflowers. The hillsides are scattered with poppies, while you’ll find patches and clusters showcasing a wide variety of Arizona Wildflowers.
Total bust. I saw very few Arizona Wildflowers, which surprised me.
Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
You’ll find yellow, marigold, and orange-red blooms on the Apache Wash Trailhead.
South Mountain Park /Preserve
Another Place I did not make it to, but reports say that the Arizona Wildflowers are in full bloom.
Arizona Wildflowers Region: Scottsdale
McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Thompson Peak Parkway
Located on the western side of the McDowell Mountains, this area has a lot of hiking and biking trails, but few wildflowers during my visit. Several of the McDowell mountain parks/preserves really didn’t have many wildflowers. However, as you drive down Thompson Peak Parkway some of the medians have incredible variety and color, it’s likely HOA landscapers may have sprinkled seeds.
Pinnacle Peak Park
This area was also a bust for wildflowers, but the hiking trails do provide some fantastic views from this iconic peak in North Scottsdale.
Past pinnacle Peak, along Rio Verde Drive there are poppy patches ‘o plenty. Many other wildflowers as well.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Not a lot of wildflowers, but sure is a pretty drive with some great hiking and biking trails.
Hands down Bartlett Damn Road to the lake is the best area for Arizona Wildflowers. This is the “super bloom” area everyone wants to see. It’s also very accesible with plenty of places to pull over and walk around.
Clearly it was impossible for me to seek out every possible place for Arizona wildflowers in 2019, but hopefully this guide will give you the information you need to seek out some colorful places to brighten your day. The Google Map at the top of this post has a few additional places, click on any of the regional icons to get directions.
If you know of any outstanding places to see this year’s stunning Arizona Wildflowers that I may have missed, please leave a comment below. If you’ve been to any of these places this year, please share your experience.