Carrizo Plain National Monument


What? : Carrizo Plain National Monument is the largest native grassland remaining in California. Here you can witness the San Andreas Fault as it is cutting through the valley. another prominent feature on the monument include the white alkali flats of Soda Lake and the vast open grasslands, after rainy winter, wildflowers carpet the valley floor.


Where? : The Monument is located about 160 miles north of Los Angeles, 260 miles south of San Francisco in southeastern San Luis Obispo County.

The main access Soda Lake road starts at hwy 58, 50 miles south east of Paso Robles or 43 miles west of Bowerbank at hwy 5.

You can also access the park from it south side on hwy 33/166 (, this entrance start with an old paved section later transform into  18 miles long dirt road (do not try to use it after ran when it is nuddy).

Google Map Link


When? : Spring (the month of April and May) is an ideal time to visit, as the Carrizo Plain is one of the best wildflower destinations in the state. At summer this is mainly dry open grass land without any water in the lakes.


Due note 1: Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of the best kept secrets in California. When visiting this place, the chances are that you will be alone with nature. 


Due note 2: The Carrizo Plain National Monument does not provide any services such as water, food, or fuel. When heading this location make sure your car fuel tank is full.


Due note 3: Do not drive with your car in the mud, even for official roads, when they are wet, they become impossible for driving!

This is a remote area with limited towing services.

Road conditions:

Only the northern portion of Soda Lake road is paved and open year-round, many other roads within the Monument have an unimproved dirt road. When dry most of the valley main and marked roads are good for any vehicles, mountain road may need 4x4.

Unpaved road become impassable to cross during periods of rain; roads often take weeks to dry out after a rain.


Due note 4: for most of it par this is BLM land so you can camp for the night without any permit.


Due note 5: Please follow warning signs and respect private property when visiting your public lands.


My thoughts: We visit here as a side location on our trip, arriving from Pismo Beach and going back to the 101 highway at Paso Robles.

Driving east on hwy 166 from Santa Maria was nice, you can see how the green coastal landscape change into a dry desert once you get into and cross the mountain range.

We visit here during the dry winter of 2021. We will try to time our next visit during the spring, when wildflower blooms. This is very secluded place with almost no other visitors, interesting geological thing to see. Out of the main roads, far away destination but I recommend visiting here.


The visit:

The Carrizo Plain National Monument located in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. It spread over 246,812-acre and it is the largest native grassland remaining in California. The Carrizo Plain Natural Area became a National Monument in January 2001 by presidential proclamation.


The Carrizo Plain is a large enclosed grassland plain, approximately 50 miles long and up to 15 miles across, the valley is located between Caliente Mountain Ridge in the south west to Temblor mountain range on the north east. The San Andreas Fault is cutting through the valley. When visiting Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail, you can actually see how this fault changed the landscape.


Prominent features on the monument include the white alkali flats of Soda Lake and the vast open grasslands. When conditions are right, after rainy winter, wildflowers carpet the valley floor.


Soda Lake, normally a dry lakebed, is the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in southern California and the only closed basin (no water outlet) within the coastal mountains. Because there is not water outlet Soda Lake concentrates salts as water evaporates, leaving white deposits of sulfates and carbonates.


After rainy winter and when lake has water in it, it is beautiful to see it reflecting the surrounding hills. When we visit it at the dry winter of 2021 the main lake was all dry, there was some water in the side lake, access from Simmler rd.



Most hikes are short and easy.


Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail:

Easy 1-mile hike to a place you can actually see the San Andreas Fault and the way it changed the landscape.

The creek flows out of the Temblor Range and at San Andreas Fault it takes 90 degree to the right and after another 150m it is going back to the old flow path to the left. That's how much a series of quakes has moved the fault over the past 3,800 years.

In January of 1857, the magnitude 7.9 Fort Tejon Earthquake moved the land in this creek a full 30 feet from its previous location.


Soda Lake Trail:

Trailhead Parking Lot is right on Soda lake road, short walk down wide gravel trail to Lakeside. you can walk out onto the salt flats if it is day. There is also 200-yard raised boardwalk along shore.


Overlook Hill:

Low hilltop with a better view of the surrounding and the lake below. A short drive will take you to the back of the hill parking lot just below the hilltop, a short clime and you are at the viewing point


Nature Conservancy:

On your way to the painted rock trail head you will cross the “visitor center”, here you can get directions, reviews and information, when we visited here it was closed.


Painted Rock:

Painted Rock is an important Native American site and is open to the public from July 16 through the end of February. When we visit it during Feb 2021 the access was close and by advance permits guided tour.

From the end of the road this is 15-mile out and back hike to the painted rock.


Traver Ranch:

When we visited here it was close and there is not so much to do here.