California Road Trip in March & April: Postcards from the Highway

Hilltop above Carmel Valley, California

Wine Country Srping: Hwy 121, Sonoma County


Big rains this spring have greened the entire state of California, from north to south. What’s not green is white: the Sierra remain buried under the deepest snowpack in 20 years.  In a few weeks, once rainy season ends, everywhere but the mountains will turn gold—the color of lion’s fur, the dusty brown of tourist season. Now is the time for a road trip. As a professional travel correspondent, I always schedule California research trips for spring. Here’s why.

Gold Country Wildflowers


The Sierra Nevada Foothills go brown by May. California is nicknamed the Golden State not for the metal gold, but for the color the hills turn in summer. In early spring, the most magnificent flowers explode at around 2000–3000ft elevation, along winding back roads you can’t take faster than 30mph.


Mountains above Convict Lake, Eastern Sierra Nevada


The mountains hang like curtains from heaven along Hwy 395. Spring comes late to the Eastern Sierra—there’s always a chance the sky will go gunmetal grey and dump heavy snow on the high ridge lines one last time. Hwy 120 over Yosemite stays closed till July, leaving the high-mountain deserts of eastern California desolate and forgotten till summer. So much the better to experience the vastness in solitude.