The 12 Best Wildflowers In Yosemite To Spot On Your Next Adventure

Due to Yosemite’s natural elevation, the park lends itself well to many different types of wildflowers.

That’s a total elevation range of some 11,000 feet so you can expect a range of growing conditions.

Twelve Best Wildflowers In Yosemite To Spot On Your Next Adventure

The location of the park also helps as the central Sierra Nevada acts as a crossroads for migrating plant species from the northern mountains, the southern deserts, the Great Basin, and the Pacific Coast.

All of this means that there are around a quarter of California’s native plant species in Yosemite alone so you should try to spot some of them on your next adventure.  

In this guide, we will detail the twelve best wildflowers in Yosemite to spot on your next adventure.

The Lower Elevations During Spring

By the time March comes around, there should be plenty of spring blossoms practically begging for your attention.

These will include spider lupines, tufted poppies, pussy paws, and Applegate’s paintbrushes.

1. Spider Lupine

Also known as: Lupinus benthamii

As the spring blossoms begin to appear in March, head to the western edge of Yosemite to see some spider lupines.

These should populate the area of the Merced River canyon, predominantly on the Hite Cove trail around seven miles outside the park.

This is an area of low elevation so you should not have to worry about climbing many hills.  These almost look like lavender with long stems and purple-blue and indigo sproutings. 

2. Tufted Poppy

Also known as: Eschscholzia caespitosa

In and around the same area as the spider lupines should be some tufted poppies. These should arrive at roughly the same time in March too.

They should still be there into April and May so take a look in the meadows in the valleys. The poppies are renowned in the park for their wide, vividly orange leaves

3. Applegate’s Paintbrush

Also known as: Castilleja applegatei

Stick to those areas of low elevation if you want to see the sharp red tips of some Applegate’s Paintbrush.

The wildflower is a species from the Castilleja family and is also known as wavyleaf Indian or Applegate’s Indian paintbrush.

References to paintbrushes relate to how the tubular flowers look like paintbrushes.

This is a short perennial that comes with sticky leaves with wavy edges that lie close to the top of each plant. 

4. Pussy Paws

Also known as: Cistanthe monosperma

In the sandy areas of the lower elevations, look for the light indigo of pussy paws.

This is another low growing wildflower that will raise its flower stems during the morning which should make them easier to spot.

Perhaps they are arching out for more sunlight, no-one truly knows. When the sun goes down, those flower stems come down too.

5. Shooting Star

Also known as: Primula jeffreyi

Should you happen to walk through Wawona Meadow or Yosemite’s Cook’s Meadow during spring, you should see some shooting stars.

No, not the ones in the night sky but the wildflowers that grow on the ground.

These tend to materialize around mid-May time and can be spotted both in the lower elevations and those higher up including the sub-alpine meadows which turn the area bright indigo.

6. Showy Milkweed

Also known as: Asclepias speciosa

On those low elevations, you should be able to spot some showy milkweed amongst the tufted puppies and lupines.

Time your visit for mid-May if you want to see them in their early blooming though they do appear subtle.

The leaves are green yet the sproutings are quietly indigo colored. Also look out for their cute, long and triangular leaves.

The Higher Elevations During Spring And Into Mid-Summer

Should you visit Yosemite during the spring when it feels cooler, you can aim for the higher elevations.

There should still be some snow visible on the meadows and in the higher forests as you go along Glacier Point Road.

That road alone can climb up to in excess of 7,000 feet in elevation. At this higher point, you should catch a glimpse of several other wildflowers that prefer the hills.

7. Snow Plant

Also known as: Sarcodes sanguinea Torr

One of those wildflowers that creeps through the snow is the appropriately-named snow plant.

This may look a little different to a lot of other wildflowers but there is some science behind that.

There is no green featured on this red-colored plant, simply because it does not go through photosynthesis but feeds off soil fungi instead.

The bright red color does attract hummingbirds who will feed off its bell-shaped flowers. 

8. Swamp Onion

Also known as: Allium validum

As mid-summer creeps into view, you should head for the Top of the Park. This is when and where you should see some swamp onion.

For another lightly indigo-colored wildflower, this one kinda looks like thistles but a far gentler version.

Though they do have something of an unfortunate name, these wildflowers are a flowering plant that has long stems with angled flowers.

9. Yellow Monkeyflowers

Also known as: Erythranthe guttata

At around the same time you see some swamp onion, you may see some yellow monkeyflowers too.

These are particularly bright so you cannot fail to see their bright yellow leaves as they appear like smaller sunflowers growing peeking out from the ground.

Pollinated by bees, these bright wildflowers are annual or perennial and were once known as Mimulus gattatus.

They also count as a model organism when it comes to biological studies. 

10. Yellow Fiddlenecks

Also known as: Amsinckia menziesii

Another wildflower that is amongst the brightest in Yosemite is the yellow fiddleneck.

The wildflower gets its name from how its bright flowers coil back into the shape of a fiddleneck.

You can typically spot the wildflower when it blooms between February and May.

This wildflower has a terminal flowering whorl that typically has yellow-orange, as well as orange, or dark yellow flowers.

11. Buttercups

Also known as: Kumlienia hystricula

Where there are waterfalls, you may be able to see the white flowers of Waterfall False Buttercups.

These wildflowers are also known as Kumlienia hystricula and enjoy wet conditions that lie under the mist of waterfalls.

They can also grow on canyonsides that keep them well spritzed.

You can expect to see these wildflowers from as early as January at the Merced River Canyon that lies to the west of Yosemite yet they do remain on the cliffsides that hang over Yosemite Valley until June.

12. Knotweed

Also known as: Polygonum aviculare

During the middle of summer around the top of Yosemite National Park, you should be able to find some knotweed.

You can typically find prostrate knotweed, also known as polygonum aviculare or yard knotweed close to Tenaya Lake. You can typically see the wildflower in bloom from June.

Popular Trails For Wildflower Watching

If you want to see plenty of wildflowers in Yosemite National Park then select a certain trail. In the lower elevations, you can try Elizabeth Lake, Lyell Canyon, and Parson Lodge.

Other popular trails include Soda Springs, Meadow Loops in Wawona, Cook’s Meadow Loop in Yosemite Valley, and Wawona Meadow Loop.

Up in the higher elevations, you should try to go for Sentinel Dome, McGurk Meadow, and Taft Point.

There are also a few trails that line Glacier Point Road, while the likes of Mono Pass and Gaylor Lakes are worth trying and both start close to Tuolumne Meadows.

Final Thoughts

If you are new to Yosemite National Park then get in touch with a local guide or wildflower enthusiasts.

There should also be ranger-led programs that should be able to show you where certain wildflowers can be found.

You could also stop by one of the visitor centers found in the Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Valley.

Be patient as it can take a while for various wildflowers to be identified, even when they are in bloom.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Known To Be The Most Spectacular Area Of Yosemite National Park?

When you plan a visit to Yosemite National Park, you should make a list of areas to visit.

That should include those areas with views over Yosemite Valley so be prepared to walk up some hills to gain in elevation.

Then there are the national park’s three waterfalls and Half Dome to check out too.

There are some great views to be had from just south of Glacier Point at Washburn Point and you should be able to see Nevada and Vernal Falls a bit easier. 

Why Should You Be Aware Of Your Surroundings In Yosemite National Park?

Safety is a primary concern for those who visit Yosemite National Park.

Aside from the wildlife, you should also be aware of your surroundings and the changing weather conditions.

If a thunderstorm is forecast, you will likely be advised not to head out into the national park.

During summer afternoons, lightning can be a common occurrence and that can mean falling trees.
Diane Peirce
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