Spring ritual

Where to find the Hill Country's best bluebonnets and wildflowers this spring

Where to find the Hill Country's best bluebonnets and wildflowers

Muleshoe Bend wildflowers
Bluebonnet season is just around the bend.   Photo by Kelly Keelan

It happens each year as if by magic. A few patches of wildflowers pop up followed by whole fields. Soon enough, Texas is alive with color. If you want to make the most of the short season, it’s good to have a plan.

While bluebonnets enjoy the most fame, and the title of official state flower, Texas Hill Country landscapes offer a number of other abundant blooms, including Indian paintbrush, Indian blanket, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, winecups, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, and more. South Texas also enjoys plenty of spring blooms, including the usual bluebonnets. More unique flowers seen in the area include hairy tube-tongue, scarlet or tropical sage, blue shrub sage, red prickly poppy, and Mexican prickly poppy.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, predicts bluebonnets peaking this year in late March or early April, depending on temperatures. “It’s a prediction, I don’t have a crystal ball,” she cautions. The month of April, she adds, is spectacular in general. “Even once the bluebonnets finish up, there are so many other things coming on. There is life after bluebonnets!”

Know before you go
Remember that while it isn’t illegal to pick the blooms, it is bad form. Leave them for others to enjoy and so the flowers can go to seed and make more for next year. By the same token, minimize trampling of the plants. DeLong-Amaya says that crushing the plants repeatedly (by, say, sitting on them) can destroy the flowers. Be aware that fields can also contain fire ants and the occasional snake. Be careful if walking through grass where it’s not possible to see where you’re stepping.

Finally, be respectful of private property — no climbing fences, going through gates, or driving up driveways to get that photo. You might get a less-than-warm welcome. Places like the Wildflower Center and parks provide ready public access to wildflowers.

Central Texas spots
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
For some of the most reliable and accessible wildflowers, head to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, roughly 12 miles southwest of downtown. Open daily 9 am to 5 pm, it's free for members, $12 adults, $6 children ages 5 to 17, plus discounts for students and seniors. The center has native gardens, wild meadows, and experts who can tell you what you’re looking at.

LBJ State Park and Historic Site
Get up close, without worrying about a shotgun-toting landowner or highway traffic, at LBJ State Park and Historic Site near Johnson City. It should come as no surprise that the park enjoys fame for its wildflowers, as Lady Bird Johnson deserves much credit for appreciation of them in Texas. Meadows surround the visitor center, and a nature trail wanders from there to the adjacent Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. Fredericksburg Trolley offers wildflower tours of the area in its vintage vehicles.

Pedernales River Nature Park
This 222-acre LCRA park off U.S. Highway 281 in Johnson City has lake and river frontage as well as hiking and mountain biking trails. It also has spectacular displays of the usual Texas Hill Country wildflowers (bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, pink evening primroses, winecups, and the like) easily and safely accessible for those obligatory photographs.

The town of Burnet north of Austin claims the title of Bluebonnet Capital of Texas. The town holds a Bluebonnet Festival the second weekend of April that includes live music, a carnival, food, races, birding and, of course, looking at flowers. Blooms line the highways in this area; some of the best are State Highway 29 from Burnet to Llano and Ranch Road 2341 from State Highway 29 to Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park, where some of its many miles of trails wind among wildflowers.

One of the few locations in the U.S. where red poppies grow naturally, Georgetown celebrates with the 20th Annual Red Poppy Festival April 26-28. The free, three-day festival includes parades, a car show, live music, cooking contest, art, food, and family-friendly activities. Henry Purl Compton, a soldier in Europe during World War I, sent poppy seeds to his mother, who planted them at her home in Georgetown. The flowers spread and today bloom abundantly in the area around the town square.

Willow City Loop
Wildflower drives are a long-standing Texas tradition, and one of the best in Central Texas is the 13-mile, two-lane Willow City Loop. Roadside property along this route is private, so no wandering into the fields. Or out into traffic.

South Texas spots
Driving Texas State Highway 16 from Bandera to Ranch Road 337 and then heading west toward Vanderpool and Leakey offers plenty of scenery any time, including glimpses of the Medina River, but in spring, wildflowers sweeten the route. Farm-to-Market Road 470 west from Bandera to Tarpley is another option, as are the roads around Utopia. The 5,000 acres of Hill Country State Natural Area have miles of trails through a variety of landscapes with abundant bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, primroses, firewheels, wild petunias, and more.

Blanco State Park
The Blanco River flows through this small park just an hour from San Antonio, where bluebonnet, Engelmann daisy, Texas paintbrush, firewheel, greenthread, and four-nerve daisy wildflowers bloom in spring. Enjoy picnic areas, camping, screened shelters, fishing, and kayak and tube rentals.

DeWitt County
Known as the Wildflower Capital of Texas, DeWitt County celebrates Wildflower Month in April. Places to enjoy it include a 132-mile loop formed by U.S. Highway 181 from San Antonio to Kenedy, Farm-to-Market Road 792 to Texas State Highway 80 to Nixon, east on U.S. Highway 87 toward Westhoff, then south to U.S. Highway 183/U.S. Highway 77A to Goliad, and the back to Kenedy on Texas State Highway 239 East. More than 1,000 different species have been documented on this route, according to the Wildflower Center. The Cuero Chamber of Commerce provides maps of the area’s wildflower trails.

Goliad State Park and Historic Site
This park, nestled on the banks of the San Antonio River, has several good wildflower spots, including near Cardinal’s Haven Blind, the Longhorn tent camping area, and fields along the road to the Jacales camping area. Expect a slightly different color blend created by Huisache daisies, phlox, coreopsis, and rose prickly poppies. Drive south on U.S. Highway 183 and cross the San Antonio River to see fields of flowers in front of historic Presidio la Bahia.

Government Canyon State Natural Area
This 12,000-acre State Natural Area right in the city has 40 miles of trails. Interpreter John Koepke reports that all of its trails offer good wildflower viewing. The Frontcountry Trail, Savannah Loop, Lytle’s Loop, and the ADA-accessible Discovery Trail all offer fairly easy hiking and a nice variety of blooms. The Backcountry trails prove more challenging and have less variety of flowers, but more rugged, scenic backdrops for photos. Visitors enjoy a large variety of blooming trees, shrubs, and cacti as well, including Spanish dagger, sotol, horsecrippler, agarita, mountain laurel, huisache, and redbud. Guided wildflower walks are offered in March and April.

Guadalupe River State Park
Four miles of river frontage and 13 miles of hike-and-bike trails are reason enough to visit this park just outside of San Antonio. Spring wildflowers are an added attraction in the Edwards Plateau landscape of its uplands. Park rangers offer related special events, including The Legend of the Bluebonnet reading and hike on March 30.