Where the wildflowers are: The annual Desert Bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

After a rainy winter, the Borrego Springs desert region east of San Diego is expected to bloom quite nicely with vibrant desert wildflowers in spring 2024.

Scattered Purple Sand Verbena flowers bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park agains the brown, earthy backdrop of the desert in east San Diego County. The mountains are in the background, against the blue sky sprinkled with clouds. There are a few yellow flowers peeking out of the purple patches, too.

Betsy Knaak shared this photo with SDtoday, taken on Feb. 27, 2024, in Anza-Borrego.

‘Tis the season for wildflowers, but no sight is quite as spectacular as the one Mother Nature unveils at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County this time of year.

Against the desert’s rugged, earthy terrain sprout the vibrant flowers of the annual Desert Bloom, which is shaping up as we speak. Let’s see when — and where — the wildflowers are expected to grow this season.

A patch of bright yellow Desert Sunflowers up against the cracked, brown, desert terrain in Anza-Borrego. You can see some purple blooms in the background, too.

Desert Sunflowers along Henderson Canyon Road in late February 2024.

🗓️ Timing is everything

SDtoday spoke with longtime Borrego Springs resident Betsy Knaak — executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA) — who said the peak of the Desert Bloom is typically March 15, give or take a week.

Knaak said the region received a lot of rain during San Diego County’s historic storm on Jan. 22, 2024, and that soaking is impacting the germination process. We should see the results via the blooms over the next 6-7 weeks, per Knaak.

The temperatures have also remained relatively cool in the desert, and with those things combined, Knaak is confident it’ll be “a really nice spring for wildflowers.”

As always, Knaak said the timeline of the Desert Bloom is at the mercy of Mother Nature, so it’s difficult to say with certainty how long the wildflower season will last.

SD Anza-Borrego Desert Bloom 2023

Oh, it’s Desert Bloom season alright. This photo was taken during a prior wildflowers season at Anza-Borrego.

Photo via @txl.lax

📍 Where the wildflowers are

ABDNHA publishes a fresh wildflower map every Friday during Desert Bloom season and visitors can download it ahead of their trip. Visitors can also stop by ABDNHA’s headquarters at 652 Palm Canyon Dr. to pick up a free hard copy of the current map and get directions. Pro tip: sign up for ABDNHA’s newsletter to get the latest on what’s happening in Anza-Borrego — including wildflower sightings.

As of early March 2024, Knaak said these spots are beginning to bloom:

  • Henderson Canyon Road — near the flood zone of Coyote Canyon, flowers are germinating. This area is typically the go-to spot for the Desert Bloom phenomenon.
  • Borrego Badlands — further east, off S-22.
  • Arroyo Salado — a primitive campground within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where the Desert Lily has been blooming.
  • DiGiorgio Road.
  • Borrego Palm Canyon — the shrubs are starting to do their thing, and should be blooming by early to mid-March.
  • Montezuma Grade — pretty, yellow Brittlebush is starting to bloom here, the area most San Diegans drive down to get into the desert. If you’re seeing the yellow flowers, you’re heading in the right direction.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park 2019

SDtoday City Editor Monica Garske’s daughter at the Desert Bloom in March 2019.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Meanwhile, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is also tracking blooms. Sometimes, the state park updates this map as the season progresses.

Pro tip: The park runs a free Wildflower Hotline — 1 (760) 767-4684 — featuring recorded info about the Desert Bloom that is updated as needed. The message on Feb. 27, 2024, said the area was experiencing scattered blossoms — but still “more foliage and flowers,” as the flowers are “waiting on more sunshine” to bloom. The report said species like the Desert Dandelion, Desert Star, and Desert Lily have been spotted.

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center also offers flower maps and is open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

A closeup of white and desert lilies, with their pale green stems, up against the earthy terrain of the Borrego Badlands.

Desert Lilies spotted in Borrego Badlands in late February 2024.

🌼 What blooms?

Knaak said the Desert Lily — which resembles a mini version of an Easter Lily with its bright white bulbs — has been popping up in little patches. Other sightings include:

  • Purple Sand Verbena — they’re at their beginning stages, with some around the Henderson Canyon area.
  • Desert Dandelions
  • Desert Sunflower
  • Brittlebrush
  • Dune Evening Primrose — Knaak said this flower’s big, white petals look beautiful in contrast to the desert and other colorful flowers.
  • Ocotillo — “These look like green velvet right now with their leaves,” said Knaak. “When their red tips bloom, it’ll be beautiful.”

In addition to the Desert Bloom, the gardens of the region should not be missed. ABDNHA is hosting its annual Borrego Garden Tour on Saturday, March 16, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., where visitors can explore five private gardens at their own pace. Tickets cost $30.

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