- Location: Lake St. and Walker Canyon Road, Lake Elsinore. From the 15 Freeway, take exit 81 for Lake St. If you are coming from Corona, turn left and cross under the freeway; from Murrieta, turn right. Park where available on the corner of Lake St. and Walker Canyon Road. During peak wildflower season, especially on weekends, you may have to park farther down Walker Canyon Road.
- Agency: County of Riverside
- Distance: 3.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 600 feet
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG
- Best season: November – May, best during peak wildflower season (usually March – April)
- Recommended gear: hiking poles sunblock sun hat
- Dogs: Allowed on leash
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: None
- Restrooms: None
- Camping: None
- More information: Trip description here; video of the poppies here; Yelp page here; articles about the poppies here and here
- Rating: 6
Many hikers (including the author) drove by Lake Street on Interstate 15 without giving it a second thought, perhaps en route to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve or the Palomar Mountains. However, the heavy rains of early 2017 have brought forth a “super bloom” of California Golden Poppies and Matilijas in Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore. Overnight, this easily accessible spot has become a hot destination for wildflower viewing, to the point of causing traffic jams on the freeway. For many hikers, especially those in the Inland Empire or north Orange County, Walker Canyon is easier to reach than Anza-Borrego Desert State Park or Antelope Valley (and it is also dog friendly). This post describes a moderate hike through the main area of the canyon to a vista point, but keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to explore Walker Canyon and its poppy fields, provided you put safety and respect for the plants first.
The hike begins at the corner of Walker Canyon Rd. and Lake Street. Head uphill on a fire road, soon reaching a saddle where you will start to get great views of the poppies when they are in season. At 0.8 mile, you reach a Y-junction. To reach the vista point, bear left (you can also explore further by taking the right fork or heading down to the bottom of Walker Canyon on a use trail.) The fire road crosses the bottom of Walker Canyon one mile from the start and then starts climbing. By this point, the crowds will likely thin out.
Continue the ascent, passing by some impressive oaks and sycamores growing in the canyon, reaching a hairpin turn in 1.5 miles. In 0.3 mile more you reach another sharp turn, where the main road begins to descend, heading northwest toward the Lake Matthews/Estelle Mountain Reserve. Take the second of two service spurs and follow it 0.1 mile to its ending at a knoll beneath an antenna tower, where you can enjoy commanding views of the fields and rolling hills below, the Temescal Mountains to the north and east and the Santa Anas to the south and west. These views make the hike worth considering even outside of peak wildflower season, especially on clear, cool days.
Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.