The poppies are blooming—and the crowds are booming. As the wildflower super bloom spreads across the state, authorities in Lake Elsinore were forced to close public access to the town’s poppy fields on Sunday after a massive traffic jam developed.
Located about a 90-minute drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego, Lake Elsinore is a town of 66,000 people. After an extremely wet winter, the poppies began blooming during the last week of February in nearby Walker Canyon, drawing thousands of people from outside the area each weekend.
Even though the town set up a $5 shuttle service, traffic on Interstate 15 stopped moving and police from neighboring towns had to be called in to help manage the crowd. Eventually, Lake Elsinore shut down access to the site on Sunday, calling it “unbearable” and “miserable” in a Facebook post.
The city reversed its decision and reopened the fields again to the public at 10 a.m. on Monday, but authorities are unsure whether they will close access to Walker Canyon again this weekend. Parking remains extremely limited in the meantime. “The city continues to evaluate all possible options to reduce the strain on our community, the freeway, and local roadways,” according to a Facebook post from Lake Elsinore’s city hall on Monday. “At this time, it is not feasible for us to keep visitors away from Walker Canyon. We are working on a new plan and new options for the coming weekend and will be sure to share this with our community as soon as possible.”
The traffic jams aren’t the only issue in Walker Canyon. The LA Times reported that people blatantly ignored signs to stay out of the poppy fields and trampled flowers in the name of getting the perfect Instagram. Visitors also created dangerous situations for themselves and other hikers as they kicked rocks loose in the hillside location that is also a known habitat for rattlesnakes, according to the Desert Sun.
At least one injury was reported on Saturday at Walker Canyon, “though ambulances were continuously driving to and from the canyon,” reported the Desert Sun.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it is illegal to remove or damage any plant material from land that you do not own, so picking poppies (or sitting on them) is out of the question in these public parks. California poppies wilt immediately after they’re removed from the ground. Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, where the super bloom is also happening right now, posted a reminder on its website that visitors must only use official trails and that photos in the flowers are not allowed.
“Walking in the poppies creates dirt patches and may result in a ticket,” Antelope Valley’s website says. “Do not walk where others have already damaged the habitat; it will compound the damage and leave a scar for years to come.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.
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Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.