Hiker overlooks a super bloom in Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Carrizo Plain Super Bloom Hiker overlooks a super bloom in Carrizo Plain National Monument. © Sue Pollock

Places We Protect

Carrizo Plain National Monument

California

The largest single native grassland remaining in California.

Spectacular panoramic landscapes, a diversity of wildlife comparable to Africa’s Serengeti, the highest concentration of threatened and endangered wildlife in California—these are the irreplaceable assets of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

The Carrizo Plain stretches for 250,000 acres along the base of the Temblor Mountains, 60 miles east of San Luis Obispo. Its vast grasslands, as well as woodland habitats and vernal pools, sustain 15 of California’s threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Here may rest the future of such species as the California jewelflower, San Joaquin kit fox, mountain plover, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, pronghorn antelope and giant kangaroo rat.

The Carrizo Plain is also the largest protected habitat along the Pacific Flyway, making it a birder’s paradise in winter. In spring, Carrizo’s rolling grasslands thrill wildflower enthusiasts with a breathtaking assortment of blooms.

Thinking Big

In 1988, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Fish and Game to undertake an ambitious project of acquiring and managing this great expanse of land.

Through cooperative effort, the initial 82,000-acre parcel not only grew to its current quarter-million acreage, it garnered federal support, becoming a national monument in 2001.

Landmark Resource Management Plan and Conservation Strategies

The partners worked tirelessly to develop a stewardship plan for this vast area. The resulting resource management strategy uses an innovative set of protocols to maintain and increase the populations of threatened and endangered species.

The Carrizo Plain project also represents a prime platform for scientific research. Together with our partners we have implemented cutting-edge conservation approaches, such as the use of satellite technology to track the vitally important giant kangaroo rat, a keystone species without which the ecosystem would collapse.

How You Can Help

Join in this exciting work to protect California’s threatened and endangered species by making a donation to the California Program.

Vast open plains are backed by stark mountain ridges, structures from historic and present-day ranching operations become integral parts of the valley floor.
Carrizo Plain Vast open plains are backed by stark mountain ridges, structures from historic and present-day ranching operations become integral parts of the valley floor. © Sue Pollock

Before you visit

The Carrizo Plain National Monument does not provide any services such as water, food, or fuel. Plan your trip accordingly and insure you get these items in one of the neighboring communities before you come.  Bring maps and a compass, and know how to use them to find your way and location even if you have a GPS unit.

Weather

Expect warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Most rain falls between November and April with occasional snow. Average summer temperatures range from the low 50s °F at night to the upper 90s °F during the day. 

Pets

Pets must be controlled at all times. In addition, pets must be leashed or caged at all developed sites including the visitor center, interpretive overlooks, trail heads, and camping areas. No pets are allowed in the Painted Rock exclusion zone. 

Nearest highway access

The Carrizo Plain has two major sources of access. From the north, the access is via Soda Lake Road off of Highway 58. The other major access is from the south via Soda Lake Road off of Highway 33/166. 

Carrizo Plain is best seen in the early morning and evening light, when shadows enhance the topography.
Carrizo Plain Carrizo Plain is best seen in the early morning and evening light, when shadows enhance the topography. © Lara Weatherly

Things to do

Hiking

Hiking in Carrizo is generally self-guided and takes place on roads, trails, and cross-country. 

Caliente Ridge Trailhead

Difficulty: Moderate

This 7-mile long trail is accessed from a small trailhead located at the top of Caliente Ridge and provides panoramic views of the Carrizo Plain as well as the Temblor Range and parts of Cuyama Valley. This trail also provides excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching. 

Caliente Mountain Trailhead

Difficulty: Strenuous 

This trailhead is located 13 miles west of Cuyama on Highway 166. Wide open spaces and spring wildflowers set the stage for hiking on this 2-mile foot path. The trail is not well defined. Hunters favor this trail for access to deer and quail on adjacent public lands. Strenuous hike. 

Interpretive trails (short and wheelchair accessible)

Painted Rock

Located two miles south of the Goodwin Education Center, this trail gives visitors access to the level 1.4-mile round trip trail to the Painted Rock cultural site. It’s open to pedestrians only (no mountain bikes, dogs, or horses). Painted Rock is closed from March 1 to July 15 to protect the wildlife and resources.

Travers Ranch Trail

The Travers Ranch homestead has a self-guided tour of old farming equipment and discusses the history of farming on the Carrizo Plain.

Wallace Creek Trail

A self-guided .75 mile interpretive trail has been constructed at Wallace Creek and along a portion of the San Andreas Fault. The trail walks visitors through the geological activity of the San Andreas Fault on the Carrizo Plain over time.

Soda Lake Boardwalk Trail

A boardwalk that follows the edge of Soda Lake is located on Soda Lake Road across from Overlook Hill.

Overlook Hill Trail

The Overlook Hill Trail is located off Soda Lake Road 2.1 miles inside the north entrance and provides a great view of Soda Lake and the Carrizo Plain. The trail is short but steep.

Camping

KCL Campground

A semi-primitive campground located at what was the headquarters of Kern County Land Company. A restroom, picnic tables, fire rings, informational kiosk, and horse corrals are available at the campground. 

Selby Campground

A semi-primitive campground located at the base of the Caliente Mountains, the campground is more secluded than KCL. A restroom, picnic tables, fire rings, informational kiosk, and horse corrals are available on the campground. 

Dispersed car camping 

The designated dispersed car camping areas encompass approximately 100,000 acres where car, tent, backpack, or horse camping is allowed. Generally, dispersed car camping is permitted in the foothills and mountainous areas. 

Mountain biking

Mountain biking is permitted on the approximately 460 miles of existing public roads on the Carrizo Plain. Throughout the Monument, bikes are treated like vehicles and must stay on designated roads. Mountain bikes are prohibited on most walking trails, including but not limited to Painted Rock, Wallace Creek, Soda Lake Boardwalk, and Overlook Hill.

Soda Lake is a shallow, ephemeral, alkali endorheic lake in the Carrizo Plain
Carrizo Plain Soda Lake is a shallow, ephemeral, alkali endorheic lake in the Carrizo Plain © Lara Weatherly
It is common to see wildlife in their natural setting on the Monument. Please view them from a distance and do not disturb.
Barn Owls It is common to see wildlife in their natural setting on the Monument. Please view them from a distance and do not disturb. © Mitch Walters / TNC Photo Contest 2019

Vast open plains are backed by stark mountain ridges, structures from historic and present-day ranching operations become integral parts of the valley floor. One of California’s most dramatic wildflower blooms colors the landscape in the spring, and rare, dark, night skies escape the light pollution of sprawling development. Locations such as Caliente Ridge and the Soda Lake Overlook provide a glimpse into the universe from the dark skies of the Monument.

Carrizo Plain
Carrizo Plain A dramatic landscape in a largely undeveloped state. Its designation as a National Monument was intended to conserve the Plain's many significant wild and natural values. © Sue Pollock
× Carrizo Plain
Giant Kangaroo Rat
Giant Kangaroo Rat Peeking out of its burrow. © Dagmar Collins
× Giant Kangaroo Rat

Wild flora and fauna

The Monument offers a refuge for endangered, threatened, and rare animal species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, the giant kangaroo rat and the San Joaquin antelope squirrel. Vernal pools support the rare longhorn fairy shrimp and other species of fairy shrimp. Reintroductions of pronghorn antelope and tule elk have allowed these once extirpated native ungulates to once again roam the plain together.

The area is also home to many rare and sensitive plant species, including California jewelflower, Hoover’s woolly-star and San Joaquin woolly-threads. The diversity and abundance of the Carrizo’s many plant species serve as the foundation for the animals that thrive here and the beauty that defines the Carrizo. 

Wildflowers

Wildflowers here can boast some of the most beautiful wildflower displays around. These displays spread across the valleys, over the hillsides and down the canyons. One of California’s most dramatic wildflower blooms colors the landscape in the spring, and rare, dark, night skies escape the light pollution of sprawling development.

Make a Difference in California

Together, we can achieve transformative change on a scale that’s attainable—for Carrizo Plain, for California, and for the world.