McLaughlin Daffodil Hill is “situated in a beautiful mountain setting at the 3,000 foot elevation in Amador County.” The hill is open to the public only during the daffodil blooming season which typically takes place from mid-March through the first week or two in April. During the remainder of the year, the six acre grounds return to the status of a historic private ranch that was established in 1887.
The 2014 season has been a remarkable daffodil bloom show despite the drought conditions concerning many in California. The cooler elevations and late winter rains blessed the bulbs for another season of thriving growth. The bulbs carpeting the grounds include several hundred varietals and in the last several years approximately 16,000 new bulbs have been planted annually by the descendants of the original ranchers Aurthur and Lizzie McLaughlin. The Ryan brothers and their families have taken up the task of providing one of the most glorious flower displays to be found not only in Amador County but in California that is FREE and open to the public. It’s an amazing contribution to the community.
Taking a day trip to Daffodil Hill is a rewarding experience with few negatives that can be legitimately cited. However, in the spirit of the best and worst, the following list also contains some of the less enjoyable details that are noted as part of the wonderful gift of the flower carpeted hill.
As far as the eye sees
When looking across the central bloom grounds, the eye sees near endless daffodils. The border of trees, old wood buildings, and a horse and mule corral wraps around the pasture painted with yellow and white and dabs of orange. The view is gorgeous from any direction and inspires the heart and soul to be thankful for the beauty of nature enhanced by the care of man.
Run by volunteers and family members
McLaughlin Daffodil Hill is run by volunteers and family members. Visiting the farm during bloom season is a generous gift made possible by McLaughlin descendants and many volunteers. They greet visitors with genuine smiles and never charge entrance or parking fees which is a nearly unbelievable positive in this day of get what you can from whoever you can modus operandi. While donations are gladly welcomed, the bright yellow donation bucket isn’t waved in visitors faces. A small shack with purchasable items is open for memorabilia. Photo: family member left and volunteer right. Thank you!
Hundreds of Varietals
Daffodil Hill isn’t just populated by a couple kinds of daffodils. The hill is covered with approximately 300,000 bulbs and a “couple hundred named varietals.” Yellow and white are the predominant colors that capture the eye and within that pallet dozens of shapes and sizes dance in the carpet of flowers. Orange and peach are the secondary flower colors and green is the foundation and the backdrop is complimented by the browns of nature and old wood.
The hill is a flower lover’s dream, a child’s delight, a family’s favorite destination.
Antique details and extra eye candy
McLaughlin Daffodil Hill is also accented with wagon wheels, gold rush era mining and antique farming equipment. Some of these visual pleasures also include on old truck hosting two old bicycles, a wood stove, wheelbarrows and wine barrels planted with tulips and other bulbs.
The farm is a historic place adored by both flower and history buffs. The shack at the entrance often includes a free fact information sheet printed on, of course, daffodil yellow paper.
The first plantings of daffodils began with a few bulbs with the Dutchman Pete Denzer. Pete planted them in remembrance of his home country and when Arthur and Elizabeth McLaughlin purchased the farm in 1887, “Lizzie” van Vorst-McLaughlin began planting “additional daffodils to beautify the ranch.”
Daffodil Hill was actually “a regular stopping place for teamsters hauling lumber from the Sierras down to the Kennedy and Argonaut Mines and for eastbound travelers heading for the Comstock Lode on the Amador-Nevada Wagon Road (Highway 88).”
More than daffodils
Daffodil Hill is not just home to thousands of daffodils, The grounds are also planted with tulips, hyacinths, violets, lilacs, crocuses and blooming almonds. The almond trees make a spectacular backdrop and add character and texture to the beauty of the hill.
The original 1880’s barn still remains on the McLaughlin farm and turns the carpet of flowers into an even great photographer’s joy each year. Some of the other standing structures house chickens and other farm animals while a few peacocks roam where they will.
The worst of the wonderful
So every wonderful gift can at times be shadowed by something less desirable. That undesirable element at Daffodil Hill typically comes from the crowds who fail to embrace respect. A few lovely signs are posted on the grounds reminding visitors to stay on the path. Unfortunately there are those who don’t monitor their mini-me munchkins who are too easily tempted to grab at flowers, step over the borders, sit too close to some beautiful blooms and so forth. Some parents plop their little ones right in the midst of a group of beautiful blooms to photograph them. “Ouch” say the flowers, “ouch” say the offended flower admirers. “Duh” say the oblivious adults.
And because this is called the best and the worst of McLaughlin Daffodil Hill, it would be remiss to not mention one of the most outrageous deeds reported. The visit is FREE and yet there are those who insist on going into the FREE portable potties provided solely for the visitors during the bloom season and putting whole rolls of toilet tissue into theirs bags. What? Yes, they steal the toilet paper which has to be replaced by VOLUNTEERS who help monitor the potty station. Come on …. love the world, love yourself. Self-respect always leads to love and respect for others. We know who you are porta-potty criminals.
The hill is not “a commercial enterprise, nor formally publicized or promoted” and yet it is one of the most arduously photographed gardens in Amador County and beyond. The bloom season makes even the worst photographer a photo virtuoso.
Benches are strategically placed here and there for people to rest and are often the source of photo stations for families and friends wanting to capture the beauty behind and around them. Cell phone cameras, pocket cameras, and professional gear are brought into the grounds by the thousands each year.
As a note for courtesy custom, please look around you before you stick your pocket camera out to snap a beautiful bloom. There are many photos in progress that require redos and long waits after others step heedlessly in front of a photo already in process. However, most people are understanding and patient. The grounds are highly populated during the weekends and respecting your fellow visitors is required to keep the smiles going strong.
Birdhouses and trees
The farm is also home to a few enchanting birdhouses but the most high soaring beauty is the line of trees and shrubs. Pine and almond and others add depth to the beauty with various hues of green, fresh bud yellows, and even pink and lavender. The landscape is made whole by the majestic rise of trees that protect the sloping pasture that turns into a carpet of flowers each year.
Once a year and for many years
One of the most unhappy realities of McLaughlin Daffodil Hill is the fact that the blooms only last for a brief time. Each year their glory depends on nature and some years have been short-lived and near absent with smashing wind and rains destroying the blooms. The open season is mid-March through early April but potential visitors should always call (209/296-7048) to confirm if the hill is open or closed before making the trip. The hill is always closed during rain or when rain has been sufficient enough to make the grounds slippery.
If you are visiting from outside Amador County, it can be a long drive only to face disappointment. The hill is located at 18310 Rams Horn Grade, Volcano, CA 95689. The route in can either be taken via Jackson or Sutter Creek and both routes have highlights worth noting. Sutter Creek is a lovely historic town that is home to seven wine tasting rooms on Main Street and one on Hanford. Wine tasting is often complimentary and can be a delightful adult addition to a trip to Amador County along with either a picnic lunch at the hill on the benches at the entrance or from one of the tasty eateries found in the nearby towns.