In California’s Central Valley, Carrizo Plain National Monument is expansive at 204,107 acres. The Bureau of Land Management maintains the public land. The monument is home to the famed Soda Lake. Once inhabited by Native Americans, pictographs remain painted onto the rock formations. Settlers later moved into the area, building ranches and homesteads, some of which are still intact today. Carrizo Plain National Monument is in a remote area, with the nearest communities an hour or longer away depending on where you are in the monument. You’ll want to make sure you’re stocked up on fuel, water, and other supplies before making the trip out.
Once at the monument, taking a guided tour or exploring the interpretive trails are great ways to learn about the monument’s history and geology. Home to many types of endangered animals as well as migratory species, you’re sure to encounter wildlife during your visit. There are two primitive BLM campgrounds at Carrizo Plain National Monument, KCL Campground, and Selby Campground. Small RVs and trailers can fit into the campsites at either of these primitive campgrounds. The roads to each camping area are dirt and gravel. They can become muddy and dangerous when wet. Check the weather and road conditions before your trip, especially if planning to visit in the winter.
Carrizo Plain National Monument is in a remote area west of Bakersfield in California’s Central Valley. The remote nature of the site makes for a long drive for any supplies. Be sure to refuel and pick up any necessities in one of the Gateway Communities you’ll pass on your way. These communities are 15 and 60 miles away from the monument entrances. GPS should not be trusted for directions to the park. There are two main entrances into the monument, one on the north end and the other on the south. If coming from the north, take State Route 58 to Soda Lake Road. If coming from the south, take State Route 33 or 166 to Soda Lake Road. The roads at Carrizo Plain National Monument are dirt and gravel. Those with RVs should take extra caution while traveling on the monument roads, due to the bumpy and uneven nature. Check the weather and road conditions before your trip. If it has rained or rain is in the forecast, some roads may be slick, muddy, and some may be impassable. High clearance vehicles are recommended.
Come prepared for boondocking if planning to camp at KCL Campground. Drivers should use caution while driving the roads leading to the campground. The gravel road is bumpy and uneven in some sections. There are 12 campsites at KCL, two of which are ADA compliant. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If visiting during the peak season or over a weekend, you’ll want to plan to arrive early to beat the crowds.
There is no water or electricity at the campground. Be sure to fill up your RV’s water tank and bring along the solar panel. KCL Campground is mostly open with some shade trees. Though considered to be primitive, there are amenities such as vault toilets, horse corrals, and an informational kiosk. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and a fire ring. If visiting during a dry period, be sure to check for fire bans in the area prior to having a campfire.
Selby Campground is the more secluded of the two developed campgrounds at Carrizo Plain National Park. Far from any services and accessible only by gravel roads, you’ll really feel away from it all while staying at Selby Campground. Though the roads are gravel, those with small RVs and trailers should be able to navigate the roads leading to the campground. Take extra caution if it has rained recently or rain is in the forecast. The roads can become slippery and even impassable.
Selby Campground offers free camping at its 13 campsites. The campsites each have a fire pit and picnic table. With very few shade trees in the campground, visitors should expect little shade. The campground is semi-primitive with limited amenities that include vault toilets and horse corrals. There is no water, electricity, or garbage pickup. Visitors should take all trash and belongings when they leave. Pack in, pack out!
Campers looking to truly get away from it all may prefer to stay at one of the many designated dispersed campsites throughout Carrizo Plain National Monument. There are nearly 100,000 acres of land where dispersed camping is permitted. Car, tent, backpack, and horse camping are allowed at the campsites. If looking for one of these sites, head to the foothills and mountainous areas at the monument. The dispersed camping sites offer plenty of privacy, seclusion, and beautiful scenery. Come prepared for boondocking with plenty of extra water and other supplies. There are no amenities or services within several miles. Campers should leave no trace while camping at the monument. Any food and other supplies you bring in should be taken with you when you leave, including any accumulated trash.
There are a few hiking trails at the monument. The seven-mile Caliente Ridge Trail is considered to be moderate. Hikers will be rewarded with beautiful views of the Carrizo Plain and the surrounding landscape. The trailhead can be accessed at Caliente Ridge.
Caliente Mountain is another trail that is often used by hunters heading to the public land. The trail is rugged and considered to be strenuous. During the spring months, wildflowers blossom along the trail. The trailhead for Caliente Mountain is located on Highway 166.
During a visit to Carrizo Plain National Monument, take a guided or self-tour to see wildlife and other monument attractions. The Painted Rock Guided Tour takes participants on a three-mile hike to Painted Rock Alcove, where they’ll find Native American Pictographs, rock formations, and other beautiful scenery. Visitors may opt to take the self-guided tour to Painted Rock Alcove instead. Those that wish to take a self-guided tour must make a reservation.
Saucito Ranch Tour is another guided tour that monument visitors may opt to take. Saucito Ranch has the oldest historic house remaining intact at the monument.
During a visit to the monument, visitors should plan to explore one of the many interpretive trails. The Wallace Creek Trail leads visitors along a section of the San Andreas Fault. The Soda Lake Boardwalk Trail borders the famed Soda Lake.
The Overlook Hill Trail rewards visitors who make the steep climb with views of Soda Lake and Carrizo Plain. Travers Ranch Trail teaches visitors about the area’s farming history as they pass by farming equipment at Travers Ranch Homestead.
History buffs visiting the monument will want to take in the monument’s historical and cultural sites. Native Americans resided on the land as long as 10,000 years, and settlers moved into the area during the 19th century.
Artifacts and remains of buildings, homesteads, and pictographs remain intact today. During your visit, take part in a guided or self-tour to see pictographs, old farming equipment, and learn the history of Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Carrizo Plain National Monument is home to many different types of wildlife, including rare and threatened species. The giant kangaroo rat, blunt-nosed lizard, and San Joaquin kit fox are a few endangered species at Carrizo Plain.
The monument is an excellent destination for birdwatching. Owls, sparrows, quails, prairie falcons, and many other species are seen throughout the year at the monument. Many different types of birds are seen only during specific seasons or rarely seen at all, like hawks and waterfowl.
Hunting is permitted in some areas of the monument, as well as the adjacent public land. The Caliente Mountain Trailhead is often used by hunters to access the public land from the monument. Common game to hunt includes deer and quail. Hunting is prohibited in designated campgrounds and campsites in addition to other developed areas at the monument. Visitors planning to hunt should check with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for hunting rules and regulations in the area.