Wild Iris Lower Horse Meadows

Wild Iris in Lower Horse Meadows

Most Photos by Patrick Wilkes

There’s something special about a meadow carpeted with wild irises. Sure, there are a lot of other beautiful wildflowers in the Eastern Sierra. But wild irises are more than beautiful. They’re elegant.

Plus, they don’t grow in as many places as lupine, paintbrush, or mule ears. So their scarcity makes them seem even more of a treasure. Here are seven places in the Eastern Sierra where you can find wild irises.The earliest date I listed is the date the irises are likely to be in bloom after drier winters. The later date is for summers following a winter with lots of snow.

Between Topaz Lake and Walker

Date Range for the Annual Bloom: May 24 – June 10

Wild Irises Near Coleville

Irises near Coleville, California

Keep your eyes peeled on the east side of Highway 395. Irises blanket the meadow across from the giant cottonwood trees. You’ll find more wild iris action just a bit farther south, too.

Wild roses join the wildflower party, adding splashes of pink near the fence.

Wild roses near Coleville

Buckeye Canyon

 Date Range for the Annual Bloom: May 24 – June 15

Wild Irises in Buckeye Canyon

This little-visited canyon is home to a large meadow painted lavender by the irises. You’ll have to hike to the meadow, but there’s very little elevation gain from the trailhead to this idyllic spot. I hiked here on Memorial Day following a very dry winter, and there were just a handful of irises blooming—the rest looked like they were past peak.

Irises also grow a short distance from the trailhead in the meadow on the banks of the creek.

You can find out more details about the Buckeye Canyon Hike in the article: Eastern Sierra Hikes Away From The Crowds.


Date Range for the Annual Bloom: June 1 – June 30

Bridgeport California Meadow

This meadow is awaiting the annual iris bloom

The large meadow by Bridgeport on the west side of Highway 395 bursts into bloom in early summer. The entire meadow is a sea of lavender. The backdrop? Sawtooth Ridge and the Matterhorn.

Burt Canyon

Date Range for the Annual Bloom: June 10 – July 7

Wild Iris in Burt Canyon

A garden of wild irises grows in Burt Canyon.

Watch the butterflies flutter among the irises in this seldom-visited area of the Eastern Sierra. Burt Canyon, north of Bridgeport, starts out as a nearly flat walk through a meadow. At the end of the meadow, just before the trail starts climbing into the aspens, bouquets of irises dot the meadow.

For directions to the Burt Canyon trailhead and more information about the hike, read the article: Eastern Sierra Hikes Away From The Crowds.

Virginia Lakes

 Date Range for the Annual Bloom: June 20 – July 15

Wild Irises By Virginia Lakes

You won’t have to walk far to witness Mother Nature’s colorful handiwork. The irises bloom next to the trailhead parking lot, near the picnic tables and down to the lakeshore.

Wild Irises At Virginia Lakes

If you sit at one of the tables for a snack or lunch, you’ll likely have company. Little prairie-dog-like creatures scamper around the area.

You’ll also spot some irises at nearby Trumbull Lake Campground, on the shores of the lake.

 Gibb’s Canyon

 Date Range for the Annual Bloom: May 24 – June 25

Wild Irises Lower Horse Meadow

Lower and Upper Horse Meadow put on quite a show, if you time it just right. Lower Horse Meadow is surrounded by junipers, pinyons, and interesting rock formations, including one that looked like a man with a big nose.

Rock in Lower Horse Meadow

Interesting rock rises up out of Lower Horse Meadow.

Burn scars from a fire that raged nearby mar some of Lower Horse Meadow. But most of the meadow was spared.

A few irises were already blooming in Lower Horse Meadow when we were there on Memorial Day weekend in a year where most of the Sierra received at least 100% of average snowfall. That was just the opening act. The main show in Lower Horse Meadow had not yet begun.

Upper Horse Meadow

Upper Horse Meadow

Upper Horse Meadow feels more like a High Sierra meadow. Taller pines gather around it thanks to its slightly higher elevation than its lower sibling. When we were there on the Friday before Memorial Day, the irises here had not yet begun to bloom.

Warning: Although you can drive to both Upper and Lower Horse Meadows, we don’t recommend driving this road in a 2-wheel drive vehicle. You don’t really need high clearance to travel the road, but there are many soft spots. If you don’t have 4-wheel drive, you might get stuck.

 Directions to Gibb’s Canyon:

From Lee Vining, travel 1.2 miles south on Highway 395. Turn right on the unsigned dirt road. You will know you’re on the right road if it intersects almost immediately with Carrie Bethel Road. Don’t turn on Carrie Bethel—stay straight.

You’ll pass a small sign that says Horse Meadows 1 mile. Keep straight on the road. Between the lower and upper meadow there is a very steep section of road. Our Toyota Matrix all wheel drive made it up and down the hill. But definitely not a place for 2-wheel drive.

East Fork Campground, Rock Creek Canyon

Date Range for the Annual Bloom: June 20 – July 12

Wild Iris, East Fork Campground

Stroll through the meadow in East Fork Campground and around the willows lining Rock Creek and you’ll encounter patches of irises in the grass. To reach the display, from campsite #133, walk toward the creek and follow the path upstream through the meadow and into the woods.

This campground was one of our favorites in our Eastern Sierra And Death Valley Camping With Privacy book. And the wild irises give us yet another reason to love it.

Enjoy Wild Irises All Year Long With This Beautiful T-Shirt and Coffee Mug

Features the Stunning Nature Photos of Professional Photographer Patrick Wilkes

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