They’re back and as beautiful as ever. Texas’ beloved blooms arrived early this year thanks to plentiful fall and winter rainfall and an unseasonably warm winter — Austin’s warmest on record. Even before the calendar flipped from February to March, bluebonnets were popping up all over the city, beginning their annual blanketing of roadsides, highway medians and fields in those signature bold and brilliant blues.
“Like everyone else, we are seeing wildflower blooms come early this year,” said Lee Clippard, director of communications for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “Before March we were already seeing bluebonnets blooming along I-35 and MoPac in Central Austin. Bluebonnets are about four weeks earlier than usual.”
But it’s not just the bluebonnets that got a jump-start on spring, said Clippard, who has spotted everything from an abundance of greenthread to iconic bloomers like Indian paintbrush springing up ahead of schedule. And for weeks we’ve been seeing — and smelling — the fragrant flowering of the lavender-hued Texas mountain laurel thanks to the higher-than-average January and February temperatures that coaxed them into blossoming early.
While bluebonnets typically peak the first week in April, Clippard said there are still plenty of plants that haven’t bloomed yet and experts are predicting a longer, more spread out season, with the state’s favorite flower springing up steadily over the course of the next several weeks.
This means we might not see those big, overnight bursts of blue across Texas like we did last April and May — rather they’ll come early and probably stay late. Bluebonnets in South Austin and more bucolic areas outside of the city’s hotter urban core could align more closely with the normal timeline, said Clippard, peaking closer to mid-March and early April.
But with the wildflowers arriving ahead of spring this year, which officially starts Monday, there’s no better time than the present to dust off your camera and buckle up for a flower-fringed drive. If any season beckons a road trip in Texas, it’s spring. Kick off the season’s quintessential pastimes of wildflower-watching and picture-taking in Austin, or venture beyond your backyard to the various Texas towns and state parks that boast beautiful blooms this time of year.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great place to become beguiled by the blooms, and there’s also unparalleled diversity here, which means you might get a glimpse of wildflowers that aren’t commonly seen such as prairie celestials, Texas star and golden-eye phlox. Many are labeled, too, making it an ideal first stop to become familiar with individual wildflowers before setting off on your own in search of blooms. Plus, the Wildflower Center offers a safer alternative for posing and picture-taking than high-trafficked roadsides. On April 29, hop on an expert-led wildflower bus tour adventure through the Hill Country to enjoy the beauty of the wildflowers without the hassle of driving — the Wildflower Road Show includes interpretation and identification by expert guides, plenty of photo stops and a picnic lunch at Garrison Brothers Distillery, Texas’ first and oldest legal whiskey distillery.
Distance from downtown: About 12 miles
St. Edward’s University
Bluebonnets are scattered in pretty patches across the nearly 160-acre campus extending from Congress Avenue to I-35. The most spectacular bluebonnet scene can be found surrounding the soccer fields in the center of campus — here, you’ll get a vibrant showcase of bright blue blooms set before the historic university and Austin’s iconic skyline.
Distance from downtown: About 4 miles
McKinney Falls State Park
Nearby McKinney Falls State Park, a laid-back, peaceful Hill Country oasis southeast of downtown off of U.S. Highway 183, already boasts plenty of bluebonnets prime for photo ops.
Distance from downtown: About 11 miles
Willow City Loop
One of Clippard’s top recommended flower-fringed drives is the Willow City Loop, an idyllic Hill Country route that gives way to stunning color-cloaked landscapes of everything from bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush to firewheels and poppies. “Wildflower season is a great opportunity to get out and explore the state,” Clippard said. “Forage your way, find a new path and stumble on a new little town — see what this state can offer.” Tip: Avoid weekend traffic along the increasingly popular narrow 13-mile ranch road by making a midweek drive.
Distance from downtown: 76 miles
Washington County’s Bluebonnet Trail
Spring is the most picturesque time of the year to cruise the 80 miles of flowering farm roads known as Washington County’s Bluebonnet Trail winding through Burton, Independence, Washington, Chappell Hill and Brenham. The bloom-prone area known as “bluebonnet country” is on track for another spectacular wildflower season, according to Brenham/Washington County CVB’s Lu Hollander. “The bluebonnets are coming out and looking good — and there are more and more popping up every day,” Hollander said. “I think our typical bluebonnet drive will look good this year with Indian paintbrush and coreopsis, and then Indian blankets that come later,” she said. Heed Hollander’s advice and make the drive any time between now and the weekend of April 8-9, when Chappell Hill hosts its 53rd Annual Bluebonnet Festival.
Distance from downtown: 90 miles
Now is the ideal time to take a trip to Wildseed Farms, a working wildflower farm brimming with more than 200 acres of wildflower fields sandwiched between Fredericksburg and Stonewall on Highway 290 East. “Our blooms this year are going to be about as good as they’ve ever been,” said John Thomas, owner and founder. “Due to the warm weather, the bluebonnets are about two weeks early this year and they will be in full bloom by mid-March.” By April, Thomas said, the bright red corn poppies will be in full bloom. Aside from soaking in the spectacular sights of around 30 different crops of wildflowers that call Wildseed Farms home, visitors can explore walking trails, browse the Blossoms Boutique and Lantana Nursery, and sip a beer in the Brewbonnet Biergarten or swirl wine at the new Wedding Oak Winery before purchasing native wildflower seeds to plant at home.
Distance from downtown: 70 miles
Texas state parks
Texas state parks offer some of the best — and safest — spots to enjoy the wildflowers. With around 100 Texas state parks to choose from, picking your destination is the toughest decision. But Johnson City’s Pedernales Falls State Park, Burnet County’s Inks Lake State Park and Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site consistently teem with wildflowers this time of year. Check out TPWD’s Pinterest Board to find out what’s blooming in which Texas state parks, like the pink bluebonnets currently flowering at Lockhart State Park.
Distance from downtown: Various distances
You don’t even have to get out of the car to soak in the spectacular sights of blooming bluebonnets in and around Bastrop County, such as the broad swathes of blue you’ll see along the Highway 21 West intersection into Bastrop.
Distance from downtown: 35 miles
Texas Hill Country Wine & Wildflower Journey
Nothing pairs better with Texas wines than its famous wildflowers sprinkled throughout the Hill Country during spring. The 2017 Wine & Wildflower Trail (March 31-April 16) marries wildflower watching with wine tasting at 46 participating wineries over 17 days during the Hill Country’s most breathtaking season. Tickets ($45 individual/$70 couple) include a full complimentary tasting at each winery (limit of four wineries per day) and a 15-percent discount on three bottle purchases.
Distance from downtown: 80 miles
Celebrate the state flower at the 34th Annual Bluebonnet Festival (April 7-9) in Burnet, the pint-sized town officially recognized by the Texas Legislature as the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas.” Widely considered one of the best places in the state to view the wildflowers, you can bet the drive there will yield a bevy of blooming bluebonnets.
Distance from downtown: 60 miles
Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail
The Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail is a self-driven tour guaranteed to wow everyone, from families on the hunt for picturesque photo spots to professional photographers. Start this scenic self-paced drive by grabbing a map at the Marble Falls Visitor Center, which will lead you in and around Marble Falls, Horseshoe Bay, Granite Shoals, Kingsland, Inks Lake and Buchanan Dam.
Distance from downtown: 50 miles
Common early-spring bloomers in Texas
- Pink evening primrose
- Indian paintbrush
Common late-spring bloomers in Texas
- Indian blanket
- Black-eyed Susan
A dozen fun facts behind the beautiful blooms
- The Indian paintbrush is actually a pretty parasite — they will attach themselves and draw nutrients from other plant species such as grasses.
- Antelope horns, from the milkweed family, are a host plant for the monarch butterfly.
- Texas parsley, which can grow up to 5 feet high, is a host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly.
- Bluebonnets are selfish and prefer disturbed soil — they don’t like competition and they thrive in landscapes that have been heavily grazed by cattle, been scorched by fire or are defined by poor quality.
- There are many kinds of bluebonnets in Texas.
- Sandyland bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus) became the Texas state flower in 1901, but since its other native relatives are equally loved, all of Texas’s bluebonnet species were designated as the official state flower 70 years later.
- Big Bend bluebonnets in West Texas grow up to 3 feet high.
- Shorter, more common Texas bluebonnets grow 15 to 24 inches.
- Texas bluebonnets typically bloom from early March to early May.
- Up close, the flower looks like a little bonnet.
- After it rains, look for a drop of water in each bowl-like petal.
- Bluebonnets are part of the legume family.