Sierra foothills wildflowers hike: Abundance in hidden places

by California

With springtime comes the search for wildflower walks to enjoy the multicolored beauty of sometimes fleeting blooms. Sierra foothills wildflowers are everywhere as are relatively easy hikes to view them – you just have to know where since you often can’t see the blooms from a road.

One hidden spot is off the so-called Foresthill Divide Loop trail in Placer County, only a few miles off Interstate 80 and fromAuburn.

Although the Foresthill Divide Loop — popular with runners and mountain bikers — is about 11 miles (including the little access trail near the west parking lot), you don’t have to go very far to find Sierra wildflowers. However, if you do want to go farther, there are loads of places along the trail that will take you even deeper into the beautiful Auburn State Recreation Area and along the Western States Trail too. But that’s another story. You seek Sierra foothills wildflowers.

Hide and seek with Sierra foothills wildflowers

Remember, we can’t tell you when the wildflowers will appear since every season varies, from approximately March to May at this elevation, but in 2015, they were out in late March and will hang on a bit longer. We’ve seen amazing poppy fields as late as May. Normally at this elevation your Sierra foothills wildflower hike will include a mix of lupine, Indian paintbrush, poppies, purpleheads (a.k.a. blue dicks … don’t ask….), wild clematis and others.

Sierra Foothills Wildflowers Hike to find paintbrush flowers

Indian paintbrush carpets the hillsides on sections of this Sierra Foothills wildflower hike.

Once you exit 80 at Foresthill / Auburn Ravine Road, head east on Foresthill Road toward Foresthill. After about a mile you cross the North Fork of the American River on the Foresthill Bridge, which is a classic in itself – renown for a stunt in the 2002 movie “xXx,” in which Vin Diesel’s character drives a red Corvette off the span and parachutes out. At 731 feet above the riverbed, it is the highest bridge in California. It opened in 1973 and is worth a quick stop at the east side. Don’t try to replicate Vin Diesel’s Corvette trick though.

West trailhead for Foresthill Divide Loop

The west trailhead for the Foresthill Divide Loop is another 3.5 miles past the bridge. Keep a sharp eye open for the small lot on the right. Don’t go zipping by the U.S. Forest Service gate in your search of Sierra foothills wildflowers!

Sierra Foothills Wildflower Hikes butterfly in poppies

Butterflies dance from poppy to poppy to purpleheads in search of delicious nectar.

Unless you have a state park pass, you will need to pay $10 for parking there. Be sure to have exact change. You’ll stick your cash in an envelope and into the so-called “iron ranger” at the gate. (There are a few free-parking turnouts a bit up the road, but we believe in supporting the parks since we want to enjoy maintained trails and truly love having a port-a-potty too!)

[div]HITT Tip: This tangent trail is rocky and steep in places so this is not a place for your Sunday best or your beach flip-flops. There are however some great rocks and trees for a nice picnic. Just remember it can get very hot on the slopes – of course, if it’s that hot the wildflowers will likely be gone. It’ll still be a great hike though.[/div]

Stepping out on your Sierra foothills wildflower hike

After stepping over the “walking gate,” head 100 feet or so up the little hill and bear left immediately. Off you go on your Sierra foothills wildflower walk! After about a half-mile you come to a Y. Bear right there and away from the busy road. After about another half-mile (there is a 1–mile marker on the right) you’ll see an unsigned little path to your right that is most definitely well traveled. Head out that way. You can go about another half-mile or so before it basically ends with great views over the American River. Those looking for derring-do could scramble farther, but we don’t advise it. All along the way you will start seeing flowers of one sort or another, especially when the hill is a sunny south-facing slope.

Sierra Foothills Wildflowers Hike finds a ladybug in a poppy

Click here to access an informational two-page sheet by the state parks about the trail with a small map of the immediate Auburn State Recreation Area.

Enjoy your Sierra foothills wildflowers hike!

Sierra Foothills Wildflowers Hike in the lupine fields

Table Mountain wildflowers showing poppies and a beeLooking for more wildflowers and waterfalls too, including one of the most spectacular in the area? Check out our Table Mountain Preserve article to learn more.



The California Travel Map

California Travel MapThere is so much to see and do in California! Use our travel map of California, in tandem with our many articles like this one, to help you decide where to go, what to do next, and even find your way from one fantastic sight, restaurant or place to stay to the next.
Heads up! This information on the Foresthill Divide Loop Trail wildflowers was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.


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Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian now focuses her writing and photography talents on travel. Fluent in German, Therese also runs a translation business ( working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. She's a French speaker, and loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication. Therese is an award-winning member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
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