Spring means many things in Austin — SXSW, bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, weather that makes people move here, and wildflowers. While bluebonnets enjoy the most fame, and the title of official state flower, Texas Hill Country landscapes offer a number of other abundant blooms, including Indian paintbrush, Indian blanket, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, winecups, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, and more.
Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, predicts bluebonnets peaking this year in late March or early April, depending on temperatures. “It’s a prediction — I don’t have a crystal ball,” she cautions.
The month of April, she adds, is spectacular in general. “Even once the bluebonnets finish up, there are so many other things coming on. There is life after bluebonnets!” The upside to all that rain Austin endured in the fall and winter should be a truly photo-worthy 2019 wildflower season. So, grab a camera and some friends and check out these top spots.
Know before you go
Remember that while it isn’t illegal to pick the blooms, it is bad form. Leave them for others to enjoy and so the flowers can go to seed and make more for next year. By the same token, minimize trampling of the plants. DeLong-Amaya says that crushing the plants repeatedly (by, say, sitting on them) can destroy the flowers. Be aware that fields can also contain fire ants and the occasional snake. Be careful if walking through grass where it’s not possible to see where you’re stepping.
Finally, be respectful of private property — no climbing fences, going through gates, or driving up driveways to get that photo. You might get a less-than-warm welcome. Places like the Wildflower Center and parks provide ready public access to wildflowers.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
For some of the most reliable and accessible wildflowers, head to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, roughly 12 miles southwest of downtown. Open daily 9 am to 5 pm, it's free for members, $12 adults, $6 children ages 5 to 17, plus discounts for students and seniors. The center has native gardens, wild meadows, and experts who can tell you what you’re looking at.
LBJ State Park and Historic Site
Get up close, without worrying about a shotgun-toting landowner or highway traffic, at LBJ State Park and Historic Site near Johnson City. It should come as no surprise that the park enjoys fame for its wildflowers, as Lady Bird Johnson deserves much credit for appreciation of them in Texas. Meadows surround the visitor center, and a nature trail wanders from there to the adjacent Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. Fredericksburg Trolley offers wildflower tours of the area in its vintage vehicles.
Pedernales River Nature Park
This 222-acre LCRA park off U.S. Highway 281 in Johnson City has lake and river frontage as well as hiking and mountain biking trails. It also has spectacular displays of the usual Texas Hill Country wildflowers (bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, pink evening primroses, winecups, and the like) easily and safely accessible for those obligatory photographs.
The town of Burnet north of Austin claims the title of Bluebonnet Capital of Texas. The town holds a Bluebonnet Festival the second weekend of April that includes live music, a carnival, food, races, birding and, of course, looking at flowers. Blooms line the highways in this area; some of the best are State Highway 29 from Burnet to Llano and Ranch Road 2341 from State Highway 29 to Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park, where some of its many miles of trails wind among wildflowers.
One of the few locations in the U.S. where red poppies grow naturally, Georgetown celebrates with the 20th Annual Red Poppy Festival April 26-28. The free, three-day festival includes parades, a car show, live music, cooking contest, art, food, and family-friendly activities. Henry Purl Compton, a soldier in Europe during World War I, sent poppy seeds to his mother, who planted them at her home in Georgetown. The flowers spread and today bloom abundantly in the area around the town square.
Willow City Loop
Wildflower drives are a long-standing Texas tradition, and one of the best in Central Texas is the 13-mile, two-lane Willow City Loop. Take State Highway 16 north from Fredericksburg approximately 13 miles and turn east on Ranch Road 1323 to Willow City. Roadside property along this route is private, so no wandering into the fields. Or out into traffic.