In hillside meadows, grassy prairies and desert valleys, color-drenched wildflowers herald warmer weather. You can celebrate them in their native habitats at these spring and summer wildflower festivals across the U.S. After many of these events were either canceled or held virtually in 2021, this year marks their welcome return.
North Carolina Azalea Festival (April 6–10)
Wilmington, North Carolina
Now in its 75th year, North Carolina Azalea Festival in the charming coastal city of Wilmington celebrates the arrival of one of the South’s favorite shrubs. In spring, the area bursts forth with vibrant azalea blossoms just as colorful as the varied festival events, including Southern music concerts, street fairs, parades, home and garden tours, art shows, fireworks and the crowning of an azalea queen and princess. Azalea flowers, which reach their peak in April, take center stage during the Azaleas on Tour Porch Parade, when residents adorn their porches, yards or windows with azalea-themed decorations. More than 250 vendors line the streets of historic downtown Wilmington to sell their wares and food items.
Location: All around the Wilmington area
Hours: Vary by event
Admission: Required for garden tours, concerts and parade bleacher seats; prices vary widely. Book tickets online.
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Bluebonnet Festival of Texas (April 9–10)
Chappell Hill, Texas
Deep in the heart of Texas, be dazzled by blue-blanketed fields during the Bluebonnet Festival of Texas in the tiny town of Chappell Hill, halfway between Houston and Austin. In this celebration of the bluebonnet — a beloved symbol of springtime that lines the highways of central/east Texas from late March to mid-April — you’ll find more than 250 juried exhibitors (arts and crafts, jewelry, clothing and more), craft demonstrations, country-style food, live entertainment and music, and tours of the historic community.
Location: 5070 Main St.
Hours: April 9, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.; April 10, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
California Poppy Festival (April 22–24)
California poppies brighten the Golden State with brilliant spreads of yellow and orange each spring and early summer. You can honor the state flower in Lancaster (just north of Los Angeles) at the annual California Poppy Festival, returning this April after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus. Relish the golden-orange beauties and enjoy live entertainment, amusement park rides, floral displays, live animal exhibits, a beer garden, festival food, and arts and crafts from more than 200 vendors. The best time of day to view the eye-popping fields in the Antelope Valley near Lancaster, which has the perfect microclimate for poppies, is midmorning, when it’s warm enough for the blooms to open.
Location: AV Fair & Event Center, 2551 W. Avenue H
Hours: April 22, 2–10 p.m.; April 23, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; April 24, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Admission: $8 online, $13 at the gate. Parking $8 online, $10 at the gate
Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (April 26–30)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park claims more varieties of flowering plants — more than 1,500 — than any other national park in North America. No wonder it’s called Wildflower National Park. The wondrous spring ephemerals there put on quite a show each year, featuring trillium (10 different species), lady’s slipper orchids, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, columbine, bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit and violets, to name a few. On April 26–30, the park will host the 72nd annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, featuring exhibits, programs and guided walks that showcase the park’s bountiful diversity of blossoms. Enjoy programs ranging from wildflowers and medicinal plants to art and photography to journaling and park history. The event provides interactive and downloadable maps of its 39 meeting locations. In addition, the National Park Service lists 10 wildflower walks throughout the park that are especially good for viewing spring flowers. For updates on where to find specific wildflowers on the park’s trails, check out the Great Smoky Mountains Association website.
Location: 39 different spots around the park
Hours: Vary by event; schedule available online
Admission: $150 for full access
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival (June 3–12)
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Scenic Mackinac Island, a popular summer resort in Lake Huron where no cars are allowed, will erupt with the color purple during the 74th annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival , themed “Flower Power: Peace, Love, Lilacs.” The largest summer event on the island pays homage to the more than 80 varieties of lilacs found there, where they’ve flourished since being imported to the island about two centuries ago. Festival highlights include the coronation of the Lilac Queen (from among public school students); daily walking tours with a lilac expert; planting sessions with complimentary lilac plants; a 10K run and walk; and the horse-drawn Grand Parade — one of the last of its kind in the world. Some island restaurants even serve lilac-themed food and drinks during the festival.
Location: Events take place all around the island. The Grand Parade route begins at Mission Point Resort and ends at Windermere Point.
Hours: 10K run and walk: June 4 at 9:30 a.m. Grand Parade: June 12 at 4 p.m. The first ferry to the island is at 7:30 a.m. and the last ferry off the island is at 9 p.m.
Wildflower Festival, (July 8–17)
Crested Butte, Colorado
Dubbed the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, the hilly area around Crested Butte explodes with a riot of color in late spring and early summer from golden sunflowers, magenta calypso orchids and fireweed, azure columbines, purple elephant heads, red paintbrushes and deep-blue lupines, among others. Join other floral fans in the Rocky Mountains on July 9–18 to fete these blooms at the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, an annual draw here since 1986 (details about the 2022 festival will be on the festival website by March 28, organizers say). Its 200 events include hikes and walks, art and photography classes, culinary and medicinal workshops (how to identify local plants and cook with them), garden tours, and birding and butterfly watching. Detailed self-guided trail maps for three different hikes (from beginner to advanced beginner) highlight where to spot the best blossoms. The festival also provides full-color field guides to the dozens of species in the area on its website. Note that no food or drink is sold at the festival.
Location: Most events depart from the Historic Train Depot at 716 Elk Ave.
Hours: Vary by event
Admission: Varies by event, ranging from $25 to $650
Wildflower Festival (late June/early July)
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
Talk about eye candy. Cedar Breaks National Monument — a massive 10,000-foot-high natural amphitheater — springs to life every summer when 260 species of wildflowers burst into full bloom in this alpine environment. The forests and meadows are covered with silvery lupine, pink fireweed, pale-purple phlox, scarlet paintbrushes, snowy Colorado columbines, golden little sunflowers, Aspen bluebells and so many more. The annual Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival, a multiday event (check the monument website for the specific dates later in spring) is the perfect time to enjoy this flowering extravaganza with daily guided wildflower walks.
Location: Brian Head, Utah
Hours: Guided experiences traditionally occur between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Admission: $10 park entrance fee
Veronica Stoddart is an award-winning travel writer and the former travel editor of USA TODAY.
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