Photographing Poppies at Lake Elsinore

by Mar 14, 20190 comments


snow-capped mountains in the distance

PLEASE NOTE: The city of Lake Elsinore has shut down the poppy fields. Make sure you check before you go to see if they have reopened. They are calling it the Poppy Apocalypse!

I had no idea that poppies covered the hills at Lake Elsinore, until a friend mentioned this was an exceptional year up there. It was worth the drive, and the wait for a parking space, to this spectacular display.

From San Diego, you head up 15 north to Lake Drive. You will see the poppies before you get there because the flowers are blooming right up to the edge of the freeway. Turn right and park along Walker Canyon Road. I ended up parked at the far end where the pavement ends, and was thrilled to find a trailhead there (this is the Hill of Abraham trailhead). There were also several portable toilets along the road.

Poppies and more poppies!

There is orange as far as you can see! And there are so many people — I’m here to shoot poppies so the first thing I do, is get on the trail and move past the crowds. The trail is steep enough the crowd quickly thins out. There are lots of people with cameras. No surprise since the hills are so beautiful with their colorful quilts of orange.

There are so many ways to take good photos in a setting like this. I took a photo at the base of the hill showing the people on the hill, but you can also focus on the flowers, and get the people in the background. These three shots all tell the same story but look very different.

On the ride up I saw the snow-capped mountains in the distance and wondered if I could see them from Lake Elsinore. How cool would it be to get a photo of poppies in front of the snow-capped mountains? I talked to a ranger and he told me which trial he thought I could see the distant mountains from. It was about 3 miles up (literally uphill most of the way).

Don’t be blinded by your goal

While I was on a mission to see if I could get that poppy with snow-capped mountain shot, I made sure to not miss what I was seeing on the way up. Every time the trail turned there was a new reveal of an even more spectacular view.

I like to get shots that show some detail in the foreground while giving you a feel for the whole picture. There were lots of great opportunities to get these shots since the flowers grew right up to the trail. And in some cases the flowers on the edge of the trail were at head height so you saw the shot without too much work!

These shots work best when you can get some contrast between the foreground and background. In the shot below the orange of the background is a little too close in color to the foreground. So there is no good separation from the foreground and backgrounds. In the shots above there is better visual separation of the foreground and background.

The photo below shows an example of less extreme foreground and background, but still shows enough detail in the front that you can tell this is a field of poppies and not just a sea of unrecognizable orange flowers. This gives your viewer a better grasp of the scale of what they are looking at.

A surprise meadow at the top

It is starting to feel like I’m reaching the top where I should be able to see the snow-capped mountain tops. The poppies are thinning out and there is a little more variety up here. It looks more like a meadow and seems to be just coming into bloom.

I was thinking I wasn’t going to get that shot, I had envisioned in my head, until I rounded one more bend and I saw a fresh batch of poppies, and the snow-covered peaks, almost lined up like I wanted them!

I liked these two shots the best. The peaks are a little hazy but you can still see the snow line. I love the contrast of winter and spring, white and orange, warm and cold — all in the same image.

Most people did not hike up higher than 1.5 miles so I had most of the trail to myself after that. It was so beautiful and peaceful at the top. I hung out a bit and just enjoyed being so totally immersed in nature (and not that far from civilization).

Be open to change

While the poppies with snow-capped peaks was the shot I was looking to create — I think it comes in second to the one I used at the top of this article, for best capturing what it looked like in the poppy filled hills. That image shows the real depth of the landscape, variety of flowers, and feels the most like the experience of being surrounded by all this color and texture.

Below are  some closeups of some of the variety of flowers that I saw on this day trip to Lake Elsinore. There were just so many good photo opportunities along this trail — it was a perfect day of picture taking for sure!

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These resources can help you plan your own trip

This is a day trip from San Diego. Traffic as you get close to Lake Elsinore can be an issue. Check on current highway conditions here. If you are looking for more to do, start with the Lake Elsinore Chamber of Commerce website. There are trails through these mountains, and you can get information on the area through the Western Riverside Country Regional Conservation Authority on their website.

Enjoy the journey!


Karin H Wilson

Karin H Wilson

Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller

I am Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.

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