Highway 39 is a low-key spot to spot wildflowers, for now


If you thought wildflower season was over in Southern California, think again.

The easily accessible Highway 39, also known as San Gabriel Canyon Road, from Azusa north to Crystal Lake Recreation Area, is one of the best-hidden gems where wildflowers can still be spotted, at least for a while longer.

While we haven't had a super bloom this year, where flowers cover entire hillsides and canyons everywhere, there were abundant wildflowers last week along Highway 39. The visit reminded me of my trip to Anza Borrego Desert State Park in March to see the desert. wildflowers and bighorn sheep. In both places, fantastic colors swirled in seemingly unexpected places. (However, Anza Borrego's wildflower season ended in April.)

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Red bush monkey flowers

1. California bluebells (Phallia minor) grow on the slopes around Highway 39 on May 8 in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa. 2. Like red bush monkey flowers (Diplacus aurantiacus var. puniceus)as seen on May 9. (Raúl Roa / Los Angeles Times)

Thousands of people flock to the winding two-lane Highway 39 past the Morris and San Gabriel Dams on their way to the east, west or north forks of the San Gabriel River to camp, hike, picnic and recreate in the fresh thaw. If you time your trip right, you might see what I saw: a localized explosion of wildflowers just off the highway and in the ravines and trails of the San Gabriel Mountains. As you drive north on Highway 39, you'll notice a variety of colors. Yellows, pinks and reds line the slopes. Meanwhile, when a colleague visited Carrizo Plain National Monument, one of California's most iconic wildflower viewing areas, in April, the wildflower display was not as striking as in previous years. There were swathes of goldfields and pockets of other wildflowers, but tall, thick, storm-fed grass filled the views. The Carrizo display “is largely over this year,” according to the Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline.

Along Highway 39, there are many detours and parking lots to safely stop and take a closer look at the variety of native flowers on foot. (You'll need a National Forest Adventure Pass to park, which costs $5 per day or $30 per year.) One of the best spots is the Devil's Canyon Dam Truck Trail overflow parking lot, just off the road to Coldbrook Campground. .

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Spring water bubbles over rocks.

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A motorcyclist passes by wildflowers growing on the hillsides around Highway 39.

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A sign that says "Parked vehicles must display a Forest Adventure Pass." along Highway 39.

1. Elizabeth's Spring springs from the hillside on May 7 on Highway 39. 2. A motorcyclist passes by wildflowers growing on the hillsides around Highway 39. 3. Remember that you will need a National Forest Adventure Pass when you park in the Angeles National Forest. (Raúl Roa / Los Angeles Times)

If you continue north, you can take a short hike to Lewis Falls in the Angeles National Forest and see Elizabeth's Spring, a natural spring bubbling up the side of the mountain next to Highway 39. At the top of the road you'll find the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. , where the Crystal Lake Cafe serves a simple menu including burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, chili and brownies, and campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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A bee lands on a sunflower along Highway 39.

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Wide-throated yellow monkey flower

1. A bee makes a stop on a sunflower along Highway 39 in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa. 2. Wide-throated yellow monkey flower (Mimulus brevipes) frames the side of Highway 39. (Raúl Roa / Los Angeles Times)

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A stem of purple lupine

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purple nightshades

1. Silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons) It grows on the May 8 slopes around Highway 39 in the Angeles National Forest. 2. Like blue nightshade (Solanum umbelliferous), as seen the same day. (Raúl Roa / Los Angeles Times)

On your trip, you may see wildlife like bald eagles, deer, and maybe bears. Remember to stay on the trails and not pick wildflowers to help them bloom again next year. Keep an eye out for snakes and if you venture further afield on some trails, use tick and mosquito repellent, wear comfortable shoes, and carry plenty of water.

Other places worth a road trip to see wildflowers right now include Pinnacles National Park, the California Botanical Garden in Claremont, and the Los Padres National Forest near Los Olivos, the Wildflower Hotline reports.

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