Wildflowers & Leave No Trace

Spring is in the air!

A burned out tree stands over a gulley full of freshly blooming wildflowers in northern California

Wildflowers blooming in the springtime: one of the best parts about life on the west coast! There are few things more beautiful than a long walk on a trail full of blooming Lupines and California Poppies. It’s something that anyone can enjoy and in many places, it doesn’t cost you anything. The flowers can be a powerful motivator to continue hiking! We did our longest single-day hike to date just so we could keep finding more beautiful patches of color. We walked over 10 miles, but only had about 2 hours of sleep! The beauty of a super bloom is one of the best motivators there is to keep on exploring.

An old oak tree stands tall in front of a large, snow-capped mountain and adorned with wildflowers in California

The biggest threat to wildflowers

What is the biggest threat to these gorgeous annual visitors? Aside from climate change, the gravest danger is humanity. Humans can be a powerful ally to mother nature, but sometimes people’s urge to take photos with the flowers can be the biggest threat to them. They are being hugged to death. A few years ago, Walker Canyon and Lake Elsinore in SoCal were swarmed by “Disneyland-like parking” and mobs of Instagram photographers trying to cash in on the event. It was madness. The park rangers were overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s not an isolated event either! Pretty much every location that becomes popular on social media faces destruction in the future.

A patch of colorful wildflowers including poppies and lupines in California

The impact of social media

The advent of social media has driven millions of people to plan their adventures around what pictures they are going to take. It’s done wonders for the photography industry and increased attendance to the nation’s national parks by an increased 300% in some places. This has been great for park revenues and has driven many people to find a new passion. The downside is that it has also taken a toll on the natural features of these public lands. Many beautiful parks and naturally beautiful places have had their ecosystems irreversibly damaged by tourism.

Tiny droplets of dew forming on a vibrant purple flower in the spring.

Leave No Trace

In one recent visit to a park, many hikers were seen deviating off-trail and trampling the flowers for photos. Please remember that your pictures are not important enough to permanently kill the natural beauty that is there for everyone else to enjoy. It not only kills the live flowers but stops others from growing in their places for many years, or never at all again. Hikers were seen clipping flowers by the handful and taking large quantities of them home as bouquets. Not only is this illegal in some states, but it goes against the core beliefs of the Leave No Trace principles. On top of that, the flowers quickly die and are not good in home gardens!

Large heads of purple wildflowers growing along California's central coast.

Tagging wildflowers responsibly

Many people on social media are now refusing to tag the locations of their photos because they have seen the damage that can be done by drawing crowds to new locations. When hikers and photographers don’t act in a responsible manner, it can effectively ruin a place for generations to come. Worse, many places have been closed or destroyed by those that are supposedly there because they love it. Big Sur’s forestry roads, the 2017 Soberanes Fire, Graffiti in Antelope Canyon, and the destructive social trails at Lake Elsinor during the 2018 super bloom are good examples of this.

A beautiful patch of lupines blooming in the springtime in California

Planning ahead

The first thing you read when you check out the Leave No Trace principles is “plan ahead and prepare.” What does this mean? First and foremost, it means that you should be planning your routes, knowing where to go, what closures may affect your plans and which parts of popular trails are actually off-limits. We have noticed a lot of high-traffic routes that lead you into private property or other places that you’re not supposed to be. A great example of this is the Haiku Stairs in Hawaii. Make sure to also carefully read the trail signs when you arrive before starting your journey.

A handful of white wildflowers blooming on the top of a cliff along the California coast.

Another important part of planning is figuring out where the bathrooms will be and where you can get fresh water if you need it. Make sure to carry out whatever you carry in!

A Seeking Venture kiss between Mike & Heather during sunset on a wildflower trail.

Stay on the trail – don’t step on wildflowers!

The next principle for Leave No Trace is that you should always travel on durable surfaces. How does this relate to wildflowers? Simple. Just stay on the trail. If you feel tempted to go off-trail for any reason, just don’t. Riding mountain bikes off-trail is even more harmful and can damage the terrain for way longer than normal foot traffic. Also, staying on the trail means watching out for dangers along the way. In many places, the presence of Rattlesnakes means that you have to keep an eye on where you are putting your feet! Don’t let the colorful beauty around you be TOO distracting. Heather once saved Mike from stepping on a rattlesnake! They blend in extremely well so take caution!

A burned out tree stands in a field of lupines, proving that although nature can destroy, she can also rebuild.

If you’re bringing your beloved pup on a wildflower trail that does allows dogs, take extra caution and keep them leashed. The environment is delicate and even if they don’t mean to, our pooches can do a lot of accidental harm. Make sure to always pack out their waste as well.

Leave what you find

“Leave what you find” is another rule that applies directly to the blooms of wildflowers. It goes without saying, please don’t rip these fragile plants from the ground just to take them home with you or to take a photo. Chances are, they will be dead in a short time- not only will they most likely never grow back, but now other people that come after you won’t be able to enjoy them as well. This ties into the last of the Leave No Trace principles, “Be Considerate of Others.”

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints

A blooming purple head of flowers in a dreamy backdrop of fading sunlight

Respect wildlife

One last LNT rule that applies to wildflowers: “Respect wildlife.” The flowers are not only alive themselves, but also part of a wider and more fragile ecosystem. Many creatures depend on them to stay alive, so every effort to save them from harm is an effort made in good faith. Bees need their nectar and in turn they pollinate them, herbivores love to eat them, and countless other species depend on their impact for life. Save the bees!

A bumblebee drinking the sweet nectar from a purple wildflower

California Poppy Day

The California Poppy is the official state flower. California Poppy Day happens annually on April 6th. In general, the pretty orange flowers will be out in full force during the time of spring. The poppy wildflower is a well-known symbol of California and you can often see it displayed on the scenic-route highway signs.

Fun fact time! Ancient Egyptian doctors would have their patients eat seeds from a poppy to relieve pain. Poppy seeds contain small quantities of both morphine and codeine, which are pain-relieving drugs that are still used today.

A field of California poppies which is the official state flower.

Final Thoughts

If you are going to visit a park to see wildflowers, please make sure that you pay any day-use fees that are required–it helps the land management teams in the state keep the place beautiful. It also helps them maintain the trails and parking areas so that everyone can enjoy them. If everybody works together to keep these parks beautiful, everybody wins! Aside from Leave No Trace, Nature First is another great resource for photographers to learn more about outdoor ethics and minimizing your impact on the natural world. Make sure to always be a good steward of the land and set an example for others. We all need to care and put in the effort to keep nature first. Here are the Nature First Principles:

Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.

▷ Educate yourself about the places you photograph.

▶ Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.

▷ Use discretion if sharing locations.

▶ Know and follow rules and regulations.

▷ Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.

▶ Actively promote and educate others about these principles.

Seeking Venture Photo is a silver partner of Nature First.
✶ Seeking Venture Photo is a proud partner of Nature First ✶

Thanks for reading!

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  1. Stacie says:

    THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS. This is super important for people to be aware of. There are so many ways to incorporate the beauty of the wildflowers into a photo without disturbing them. Just takes some creative angles and thinking! I’m so glad to see this blog post that is so helpful and informative!

  2. Sydney says:

    Leave no trace is so important, especially to wildflowers! They look beautiful in photos, but being respectful and minimizing your impact saves these flowers for generations to come.

  3. Kayla Altman says:

    This is a great resource for learning how to manage photographing locations responsibly. Thank you for sharing such invaluable information

  4. MAGDALENA says:

    Does this place really exist? You are so kind and wise to create this source of knowledge about leaving no trace in such a splendid place on earth. Thank you!!!

  5. Afton says:

    Yesss! Say it louder for the people in the back! You can always find creative ways to frame wildflowers into photos while staying on the trail.

  6. Love that you cover this for you clients! So many people are unaware of the impact we make on these fragile environments when swarms of people come through looking for that IG worthy shot. #savethebees

  7. yes! thank you for this. I live in San Diego and I remember a couple years ago so many people were out trampling the poppies. Education is key. Great post

  8. Naomi Levit says:

    Leave no trace is such an important topic. Love the information you shared and your flower photos are so pretty!

  9. Kelly Shoul says:

    This is such a great guide for Leave No Trace! well done!

  10. angela says:

    So glad you’re educating folks about how to spend time in the wild sustainably. Visitor education is key in protecting public lands!

  11. Adriana says:

    Seriously such an important topic, and I’m so glad you shared it!

  12. Amy Isacson says:

    LOVE the idea behind this post so much!! Wonderful images and super helpful content. Thank you for sharing this important info with us! BRAVO!!

  13. Samuel says:

    Thank you so much for educating people on how to adventure responsibly!

    This post has inspired me to write about applying leave no trace principles in all kinds of locations that I shoot in.

    Well played

    Samuel 🏴‍☠️

  14. thank you for putting this important piece of LNT practice together! the wildflowers dont stay forever and seeing them picked and trampled is so awful

  15. David says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! So much great information and a fantastic reminder for us all to leave no trace and to protect these beautiful landscapes that we enjoy so much.

  16. Kat says:

    As someone who lives and photographs in California and gets to see all the gorgeous poppies and lupine, I appreciate this post. Who can forget all the beautiful places shut down due to hoards of people going off-trail? Thanks for putting this out there and reminding all of us to take care of nature better.

  17. Maaike says:

    Hi Heather,
    Loooove seing photographers involved in protecting our nature! You’re sooo right! People often don’t know the long-term impact venturing in those fields does have and it’s great to see people educating others about it 🙂 Hopefully, the more we raise awareness, the better we’ll protect our beautiful environment. 🙂

  18. Sienna says:

    The world needs more articles like these. It is so disheartening to see people disrespecting wildlife and nature while claiming that they love it. Leave no trace is so important in instances like this! Thank you so much for spreading awareness.

  19. Andrea Brandt says:

    I’m SO GLAD you posted this! It’s heartbreaking how people are damaging the beautiful landscapes at the “popular” spots. Educating and showing others how important it is to preserve our mother earth is key. You are amazing!

  20. Thank you from the deepest places in my heart for education humans on how to leave no trace and infinitely adventure with respect for our wonderful and sacred planet. You’ve inspired me to explore writing similar educational content. Thanks so much for being a creator. 🙏

  21. Jessa says:

    Thanks for all of the info! Gotta think about keeping our beautiful places beautiful!

  22. This is such an important post! It makes us so sad to think that social media could be the reason that wildflower meadows could be destroyed. We love all your advice about how to mitigate the problem and the photos of the flowers are soooo beautiful! We’d love to see it for ourselves one day.

  23. This is SO useful for teaching how to enjoy nature respectfully! I absolutely love how you shared all this info, I just recently learned how delicate wildflowers are and am so thankful you are spreading the word for more and more people to learn!

  24. Justyna says:

    Ah…can we have wildflower season all year long….yes please! Using discretion is so so important…and LNT is a must!!! Stunning!

  25. Marla says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Leaving no trace is SO important, especially when it comes to delicate vegetation.

  26. Thank you, thank you, thank you 👏

    We need to really talk about this more and you did a wonderful job educating people who sometimes have no idea what implications geo tagging does. Mix that with people who take things for face value and it’s a recipe for disaster. We gotta speak for the unspoken.


  27. Bernadeta says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Yes, we people need to be educated about leaving no trace. It’s so sad when we don’t care about our Mother Nature

  28. Leo says:

    This is a great resource for being mindful of how to photographing locations responsibly. These wildflower varieties are amazing, thanks for sharing!

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