Why Lake Elsinore’s Poppy Super Bloom Will Be Less Than Super This Year

Now that Super Bowl Sunday’s over, your thoughts may be turning to Super Bloom Sunday. Maybe you’ve heard that, for the first time in four years, the hills around Lake Elsinore are turning orange. That’s right, the legendary poppies are back. But if you’re thinking of heading up for a peek, you might want to hold your horses. And definitely hold your cars. After 2019’s debacle, you’re more likely to come back with a citation than an Instagram-worthy selfie.

The Historic Super Bloom of 2019

Anyone, and there are a lot of you, who saw the Lake Elsinore poppy super bloom of 2019 will never forget it. The rolling hills flanking the 15 freeway were afire with the passionate burn of orange poppies. As far as the eye could see, that distinctive burning orange juxtaposed soothing blue skies. 

Over 16,000 acres were covered by this orange blanket. Obviously, this wasn’t the first time the poppies had blossomed across the Antelope Valley’s Lake Elsinore. Yet, it was still more-than-deserving of the title “super bloom”.

Unique Conditions That Put the “Super” in Super Bloom

The conditions that contributed to such an abundant blossoming were unusual. An extraordinarily wet winter had fallen over those normally parched hillsides, bringing over 20 inches of rain from late 2018 into early 2019. Precipitation collided with high winds and low temperatures, creating the perfect ingredients for some major orange magic. 

Photo credit: Jeffhollett

The poppies of Lake Elsinore had been drawing thousands of visitors every year. But 2019’s super bloom meant super crowds. That year, the pilgrimage to Lake Elsinore was easily ten times its usual size. That’s tourism, right? Well, not exactly. Neither Lake Elsinore nor its renowned poppies were prepared for this kind of traffic. 

Disneyland’s morning rope drop had nothing on Lake Elsinore in February of 2019. Maybe this would have been fine if the city were a theme park. But it wasn’t designed for the glut of gawkers that came pouring across the fields in search of their Instagram moment. 

A Nightmare for Peoples and Poppies Alike

The 15 freeway crawled to a standstill with armies of cars illegally parking on the shoulders. This stagnating traffic soon spilled onto the Ortega Highway and even into residential areas. More than one Riverside County official was effectively trapped in their home by the citywide jam.

Photo credit: cultivar413

But the delicate poppies fared even worse. Poppies are a sensitive flower. Even minor disruptions to their environment can ruin their chances of future blooms. 

Lake Elsinore’s 2019 mob must have missed that memo. Blinded by social media glory, visitors ran heedlessly off the clearly marked paths, crushing the life from orange blossoms. Some sprawled out in the flower beds, oblivious to the long-lasting damage of their flash-in-the-pan selfies. 

One wealthy couple even landed a helicopter in the fields, creating a mechanical blight of selfishness in an otherwise pristine natural scene. When a ranger approached the chopper, the flagrant offenders rapidly took off. 

Attempts to Accommodate the Exodus to Lake Elsinore

Photo credit: cultivar413

Lake Elsinore’s officials still tried to salvage 2019’s season. Law enforcement officers closed roadway access to Walker Canyon, but obsessed visitors, fueled by energy drinks and FOMO, merely hiked the distance. A week into the chaos, officials carved out a traffic flow plan that even included a shuttle bus and dedicated parking areas. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department aggressively cracked down on the army of gawkers who still continued to park illegally. 

No matter what precautions the city adopted, it was never enough. By the early days of April 2019, the great super bloom began to recede and the crowds faded. Sad fields of plucked blossoms and trampled greenery remained in their wake. 

The hashtag #DontDoomTheBloom never took off quite like the photos of influencers in sun-kissed poppy wonderlands. For a time, it seemed that perhaps those photos would be all the world had to remember the breathtaking poppies of Lake Elsinore. The delicate poppies had been left in tatters. Then, drought gripped the region and thus there was no significant bloom in 2020. Or 2021. Or 2022. 

The Poppies Are Returning… But This Isn’t a Super Bloom

Photo credit: Cultivar413

Like the months leading up to the great super bloom of 2019, Southern California was drenched in rainfall this winter. It seems like a spark of that orange magic was left after all. Lake Elsinore’s poppies are returning. 

But this year’s “super bloom” is expected to be less than super, though still significant. According to the city’s website, “this will not be a Super Bloom similar to what we had in 2019.” But there are other ways this year’s bloom won’t be similar to what we saw that fateful year. Lake Elsinore learned a few things from that particular nightmare. 

Lake Elsinore’s New Precautions

Those making the pilgrimage to see a super bloom this year won’t have an easy time of it. Lake Elsinore Pro Tempore Mayor Natasha Johnson has vowed to place “residents’ safety and the preservation of land” above guest hospitality. 

Photo credit: Envato

Attempts to visit Walker Canyon during the not-quite-super bloom are more likely to see a citation than a welcoming field of fiery orange poppies. Trails are closed. Parking is closed. Walker Canyon in general is closed. 

The move comes with plenty of support via the California Highway Patrol and Riverside Sheriff’s Department. Signs have been posted accordingly and that’s about as much courtesy as Lake Elsinore is affording this year. Beyond that point, visitors can expect aggressive and vigilant enforcement from officers. 

How You Can Still Enjoy the Poppies

So, if acres of poppies bloom and there’s no one there to see it, does it make a sight? We’ll never have to wonder, because you can still see this year’s sort-of-super bloom. Just not in the way you might expect. The poppies can be seen from quite far off when they’re in full bloom. Therefore, visitors may not be able to stop and smell the poppies. But they’re still permitted to appreciate them from afar. Otherwise, Lake Elsinore has graciously set up a live feed of the fields so viewers can see their splendor without crowding the poppies’ personal space. 

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