I was introduced to this volcanic area in 2013, before it was popularized, regulated and overrun by the masses. With the exception of last year I’ve been traveling every spring since then and haven’t had the opportunity to return. Last year it was closed due to COVID, this year I was determined to return. It was one of my knee rehab goals. But I have severe crowd anxiety. I’d prefer to skip these opportunities rather than share with the masses. I also have a no regrets policy so I was determined to find a way to enjoy regardless of it’s popularity.
This 2013 photo clearly shows I didn’t know about not crushing the blooms, but then again it taught me to behave like the cows.
I clearly remember visiting the waterfalls, especially making this sketchy descent to explore the cave and cool rocks below one of the waterfalls. I hear a rope now exists to assist with that steep section.
It was worth it, but I can say been there, done that, don’t need to do that again. There are 9 waterfalls that can be viewed during the rainy season on an 11-mile cross-country loop (link). I’ve only been to a few so someday I’ll go back and hike this complete loop.
My goal this trip was much different. My knee was a little extra sensitive so my plan was to take it easy and see what I could see given my limitations. To minimize crowd encounters I arrived on a weekday at 8am and followed the cow paths rather than the waterfall trail. The poppies were still sleeping, so while I waited for their 10am wake-up call, I roamed and found many more photography opportunities.
“Created by ancient lava (basalt) flows, the approximately 3,300 acre North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve is an elevated basalt mesa with beautiful vistas of spring wildflowers, waterfalls, lava outcrops, and a rare type of vernal pool, called Northern Basalt Flow Vernal Pools.” Source: North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve webpage
I enjoyed seeing the vast color swatches.
It was a great day to hang out with the cows.
On the other hand far in the distance I could see the waterfall trail conga line.
When I arrived just before 8am there were maybe a dozen cars in the parking area. When I left around noon there were hundreds with hordes of people every which way. My strategy was successful and I didn’t encounter others until the last few minutes of my day. For those wanting to explore the large variety of wildflowers, the season covers several months and includes over a hundred varieties. You can download this botany guide (link). For further information and preparation, be sure to visit the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve website (link) to purchase your day use permit, CDFW Lands Pass (link). If you go please respect private property signs and fences, and carry a litter bag to clean up after those less thoughtful.
Peak wildflower season is short. Usually 2-3 weeks in late March to early April. Once things start drying out, the large stickers pictured below will ruin your shoes and socks, which will keep you to the main trails.
I felt like I was one in a million, the pink among the blue.
It was a no-regrets day. If it wasn’t a 4-hour round trip drive, I’d return more frequently to find individual blooms like the fairy lanterns.
“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
― Claude Monet