Carrizo Plain National Monument: Soda Lake, Finding Wildflowers & Exploring the Park
Carrizo Plain National Monument is a beautiful range of mountains and valleys in Central California that has been relatively untouched over the years. The rugged beauty on display in the park helps maintain a glimpse of what California used to look like. The sprawling green hills, which are covered in wildflowers during the spring, give way to a lush lowland with everything from historic farms to the alkaline and often dry Soda Lake. You could easily spend a few days exploring the area, but if you are looking for wildflowers, then right now (April 2017) is the time to go. Here is all the information on the park and the wildflowers at the bottom.
- Free to enter
- Location: 17495 Soda Lake Rd, Santa Margarita, CA 93453
- This information was from my visit in 2017
The best way to the park is on Highway 58, coming from the coast, or from Highway 5 if you are coming from Bakersfield. Highway 58 will take you along a paved road all the way into the park. If you originate from the south, you can take Highway 166 to Soda Lake Road and into the park that way, but it is about 18 miles of dirt road that can be impassable after the rain and is generally much slower going then heading in via Highway 58. There is parking along the road and in small parking lots at the main areas. Note that most of the roads in the park are dirt. They were passable when I went, but just be sure to take your time or use a high clearance vehicle if you have one.
The park is full of adventures, and most are easily accessible from the main road. Here are some of the highlights.
Soda Lake is one of the largest alkaline lakes in all of California. It has no natural drainage point, so the water sits in the lake before eventually evaporating during the summer months.
If you go when the lake has water in it, it is beautiful to see it reflecting the surrounding hills. There are two main ways to see the lake. You can read about both of them below.
Soda Lake Overlook
This short, tenth of a mile hike takes you to the top of a hill that overlooks the lake. It is a high vantage point of the valley below.
There are even some benches up here that you can relax at if you want to sit and take in the view.
Soda Lake Boardwalk
This half-mile trail takes you out to the shores of Soda Lake so you can get up close to this body of water.
You can then walk along the elevated boardwalk that takes you along the coast and gives you a great spot to view animals and birds from.
There are interpretive plaques that tell you about the lake and its history as well.
Painted Rock is one of the park’s main destinations as it is a collection of Native American art that is one of the best preserved in California. The area is only accessible via a guided tour during the spring though, and via self-registration permits during the summer. I haven’t gotten a chance to go yet, but I am sure it is impressive.
Along the southern portion of Soda Lake Road, Traver Ranch is a historic ranch the park has preserved.
I was only able to view it from the road since it was closed to the public when I went, but it was cool to see, and I would like to explore it more next time I go.
If you are coming for wildflowers, then the spring is your best bet. In the spring of 2017, after all the rain we had, there was a super bloom that was something you really must experience for yourself. Here are the best spots I found to see the wildflowers.
Corner of Highway 58 and Seven Mile Road
As you enter the park from Highway 58, the views get better and better as you go along.
The best view by far was at the corner of Highway 58 and the dirt road into the park known as Seven Mile Road.
The mountains along the left side of the road were literally covered in yellow, making it a fantastic place to experience the superbloom. There was a dirt cow path that took you to the top of a small hill, and there was a massive bloom happening up there.
On the south side of the lake, there is another dirt road known as Simmler Road. This route takes you through a massive collection of yellow flowers on both sides of you as far as the eye can see.
It is a great place just to pull off and experience the bloom, as well as views over the lake.
Soda Lake Road South
If you are going home to Southern California and you have a high clearance car, then it is worth exiting through Soda Lake Road to the south. If you are from Northern California, then I would not say this is worth driving all the way down, as the blooms are just as good in the north part of the park.
On this road, after you pass Traver Ranch, there is an extensive collection of blooms off to your left in the surrounding mountains.
The road eventually gets up close to a range of hills before it exits the park and these hills were covered in yellow as well. I pulled off and took a bunch more photos here before making my way out of the park.
Here is a video of my time exploring the park.
As you can see, Carrizo Plain is a fantastic spot to explore, especially during the 2017 super bloom. If you have the time, it is worth the drive to see the amazing spectacle. Let me know if you go in the comments and what you thought.