Spring brings a dazzling wildflower show to the hills and valleys of Marin. Starting in February and peaking in mid-April, the county's park and open space lands are speckled in white, red, pink, orange, yellow and purple blooms. Hundreds of varieties of plants, some tiny and delicate, others big and showy, bloom brilliantly and offer hikers exquisite reminders of the natural abundance of Marin's sun-and-fog-kissed Pacific coast environment.
Virtually every Marin trail, whether it's in the open hills or along a forest floor, will have at least a few blooms popping up here and there. In the coming weeks on Mount Tamalpais, entire hillsides will be coated with Purple Bush Lupine, creating a spectacular natural canvas of color. The flaming orange California Poppy, so familiar but always lovely, thrives on steep sunny slopes and is the most visible sign of spring in Marin. Mariposa lily and wild irises hide in tall grass; Harlequin Flower, Scarlet Pimpernel, Sticky Monkeyflower erupt in shades of orange; Franciscan paintbrush, Shooting Star and California wild rose show off in shades of red and pink; and Baby Blue Eyes, Douglas Iris and Star Lily debut the season in white.
Today, Marin's native flowers share habitat with introduced species. In the Marin headlands, a well-known botanical hotspot, the National Park Service and park partner, the Marin Headlands Native Plant Nursery, are striving to restore native plants to areas in the park where they historically thrived. One such plant, the rare Silver Bush Lupine, is host species for the endangered Mission Blue butterfly.
The 1.5-mile hiking trail around Lake Lagunitas in Marin's watershed district lands is a wonderfully scenic wildflower walk, suitable for families, dog-walkers and nature photographers. Once you make the short climb to the lake from the parking area, the trail is mostly flat as it follows the lakeshore of this small reservoir on the north side of Mount Tamalpais. Hikers will see Indigo Bush, California Buttercup, Two-eyed Violet, Pink Baby's Breath, and many more blooming plants.
One of the sweetest spring trails in the Bay Area is the Yolanda Trail, on the north slope of Mount Tamalpais just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Popular with hikers, trail runners and equestrians (but closed to mountain bikes), the trail skirts the belly of 1,132-foot Bald Hill in Marin’s lush Ross Valley.
The spring bloom brings white Milkmaids, purple Hound's Tongue, Indian Paintbrush, Canyon Larkspur, and Sticky Monkeyflower to the easy-going trail, which is most commonly accessed via the small parking lot (no fee required) at woodsy Natalie Coffin Greene Park.
In the Point Reyes National Seashore, you'll find blooms in abundance on the Coast Trail from Palomarin trailhead near Bolinas, the easy-going Bear Valley Trail starting at the park's Bear Valley Visitor Center, and the Tomales Point Trail, also popular for its tule elk herd.
Tips for Hikers
Be wary of trailside ticks (wear long pants and light-colored clothing) and abundant poison oak. Trails can be very muddy in springtime; waterproof boots and trekking poles can be handy. For a downloadable Marin wildflower checklist, see: http://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/upload/sb-wildflower-checklist.pdf