By Julie Trevelyan


People often think of deserts as barren wastelands. Nothing could be farther from the truth in Utah. Whether you take a Colorado river rafting vacation down an awesome canyon like Cataract or take a mountain biking trip on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, the spring months tend toward an explosion of unexpected yet very colorful desert wildflowers. Here are some of the fabulous, delicate, showy, beautiful blooms you might see on a Holiday River Expeditions trip this spring.



Tall, lush, and providing welcome shade on those warm days, cottonwood trees seem incongruous in the desert. They love lots of water so are found along streambeds, even ones that seem dry.
Indian Paintbrush
This lovely dusty-red plant pops up all over the desert. Since it is root parasitic, you’ll often see it nestled right beside another plant, such as sagebrush, from which it takes nutrients.


Claret Cup Cactus
Vivid and stunning in their display, these flowers cluster to this tightly-packed cactus and are sure to catch your eye. Usually found on sage-dotted plains and scattered through pinyon-juniper forests.

Very commonly found alongside highways, this gently bobbing flower also lends its soft color to washes and canyon bottoms.
Globemallow Wildflower


These cheerful sun worshippers often plant themselves in the rocky soil on hillsides.

This stunning, delicate flower bursts out in colorful display near water sources, such as those rare streams in the desert.


Prince’s Plume
Stately and regal, this perennial dots hillsides amongst desert scrub and pinyon-juniper areas.
JimAton-Deso Wildflower


This distinctive plant stretches up to the sky in little pockets all over. Historically, yucca was often used to make soap.
Yucca Wildflowers


Fishhook Cactus
Aptly-named for its hooked spines, this cactus also sports flowers that range from palest lemon to deep lilac. Often seen on benches clinging to sandy soil.

Photo credit: Stolz Gary M, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013

Evening Primrose
These Lavenderleaf Sundrops are part of the evening primrose family. They pop up from sandy soil and like to make small but glorious carpets of color on the desert sands.
Juniper Tree
Junipers are ubiquitous in the desert Southwest. Always found growing near pinyon trees, the juniper is a hardy shrub that is often miscalled as a “cedar” tree.
Sego Lily
Utah’s state flower, this gorgeous, delicate bloom prefers a sandy soil, such as in desert grasslands, or ponderosa forests in higher elevations.

Wiki Commons


Yellow Beeplant and Scorpionweed
As indicated, Beeplant attract bees! The purple Scorpionweed curls just slightly at its ends like the tail of a scorpion. Found in sandy to clay soils, they both offer a carefree, happy color to any landscape.


Many different types of milkvetch call the canyonlands home. This type somehow survives in what seems a very barren soil, and gracefully displays its color.

Photo credit: aspidoscelis, 2022, public domain


Utah Daisy
A member of the sunflower family, this pretty purple flower likes sandstone ledges, desert scrub, and just lounging around the desert adding nice color.



This eye-catching plant enjoys rooting into bottomlands and near riparian areas. Considered poisonous, it’s a lovely one to look at but not touch.

Photo credit: Vicki Watkins, 2007, Creative Commons



Julie TrevelyanWritten by Julie Trevelyan.
Julie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.


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