Carrizo Plain
& The Super Bloom

Photo by Gabe | Fuji X-E2

5

APRIL, 2017

Central California
Road Trip
Camping
Hike

In the past few years, we’ve made a total of three trips to the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

This amazing park is the largest single native grassland remaining in California, at some 50 miles from north to south and about 15 miles across. One of the reasons we keep coming back is because the Plain is so vast. Even on our fourth trip here, we keep finding new and beautiful places to explore.

Since the “super bloom” is in full swing all across California, we made plans to visit. For anyone in California, it’s easy to get to, sandwiched between Highways 5 and 101. From our home, it’s about a 3.5-hour drive, about 50 miles west of Santa Maria down Highway 166. It’s remote, and there are no services here, so when you visit, be sure to bring food and water. Also, refuel once you leave the major highway. We’ve taken this road before, twisting as it climbs through the hills passing through canyons strewn with oaks. As we got closer to the Caliente Range of mountains that border the park, we started to see streaks of yellow along the road and all over the hills… a hint of what awaited us inside the Plain.

A lone camper awaits the sunrise at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

A lone camper awaits the sunrise

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

We entered from the south side of the park in search of a suitable site to camp. Since we wanted to make the most of our time there, we decided to camp overnight and spend the next day in search of flowers. There are only two small “official” campgrounds here, and we assumed they’d be full. They were. The great thing here is that dispersed camping is allowed most everywhere. You can drive off on one of the many dirt roads that climb into the hills, find a spot and plunk down your tent – just what we did. As the sun set, we found an area overlooking an incredible and incredibly massive rock formation and set up camp. Campfires aren’t allowed outside of the two campgrounds. We braced for the cold, bundled up and bedded down for the night.

We awoke before sunrise and headed out to take photos in the beautiful morning light. With a big day ahead of us, we quickly packed up the car and headed down into the valley. As we’d seen on the way in, there were incredible pockets of flowers blooming all over the place. As the light of day began to break across the park, we realized just how spectacular this bloom really was.

A sea of purple as far as we could see, and in the distance, the Temblors covered in yellow

With the bloom at full tilt, there were flowers wherever we stopped. Sometimes small patches, and other times hundreds of acres. Bright yellow Monolopia, Purple Phacelia, Coreopsis, yellow and white Layia Platyglossa, vibrant yellow Lasthenia and many more flowers whose names we just don’t know.

One great thing about Carrizo is that there are dirt roads that climb the hills and criss-cross the plain. Head out on any of them, and you’re bound to find something interesting. The size of this park is truly overwhelming, and these roads give you access to areas off of the main drag and away from the center of the action. Whenever we turn off on one, we feel like we’re starting a great adventure! And even now, on our fourth trip, there are still roads that we haven’t yet explored.

Our first stops were in fields of yellow flowers that seemed to go on forever. We trekked across one such field to the edge of a lake that formed with the recent rains. There, we caught the reflection of the Temblor Mountain Range to the east in the lake’s mirror-still waters.

Road leading down into the valley of Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

Road leading down into the valley

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

A field of Coreopsis in the early morning sun at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip!

A field of Coreopsis in the early morning sun

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

An endless field of Monolopia at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

An endless field of Monolopia

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

The glow of the sunrise just outside our camp at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

The glow of the sunrise just outside our camp

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

Gabe and Ethan on Anacapa Island. Let's Photo Trip!

Layia Platyglossa

Photo by Steve ~ iPhone 7 Plus

The Temblor Range reflected in the lake at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

The Temblor Range reflected in the lake

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

When heading down from our campsite, we’d seen one steep hillside washed in a blanket of yellow flowers. We meandered north on the road until we got in front of that same hill to snap some photos. The hill lies next to Soda Lake, the dominant feature of the Plain. At roughly 3,000 acres, this usually dry lake was filled with water.
In the years that we’ve been coming here, this was indeed a rare sight.

While photographing the hill and its flowers, we discovered a dirt road that headed to the top, so we ventured up. We parked, went through a hiking gate and forged a trail to the top. Once there, we had an incredible view of Soda Lake and the valley spreading out below us. Simply beautiful! We’d never seen the park so colorful and lush.

Nearing the north end entrance to the park, we finished our hilltop hike and went south again. Turning off the main road, we drove back up to where we’d camped the night before. There’s another road here leading to the top of Caliente Ridge, the highest peak in San Luis Obispo County. On the way up, we discovered more incredible views and, perhaps more important, several new potential campsites for our next visit! This road was tough, rocky, narrow, rutted in many spots… a wild ride. Once up top, the entire valley and beyond were in view. We could also see valleys and canyons adjacent to the park covered in wildflowers. Actual backcountry, with neither hiking trails or roads. Had we not climbed to the top of this mountain, we never would have seen this! We had lunch up here and made the trek back down, frequently stopping, enjoying the many views of the park.

Peering into a hidden valley adjacent to Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip!

Peering into a hidden valley adjacent to the Plain

Photo by Steve ~ iPhone 7 Plus

The view from atop Caliente Ridge at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

The view from atop Caliente Ridge

Photo by Steve ~ iPhone 7 Plus

One of the many roads leading you off the main drag at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

One of the many roads leading you off the main drag

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

The sea of Purple Phacelia at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

The sea of Purple Phacelia

Photo by Steve ~ iPhone 7 Plus

Gabe setting up his shot at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

Gabe setting up his shot

Photo by Steve ~ iPhone 7 Plus

Steve, Ethan and Gabe en route to Anacapa Island. Let's Photo Trip!

Steve & Gabe

iPhone 7 Plus

On our way into the park the night before, Gabe saw a vast field of purple flowers off in the distance, and we were determined to find that as we headed south through the valley. After a while, purple started to appear on the horizon, so we found a dirt road and headed in that direction. Once we parked, we walked close to a mile and ended up in hundreds of acres of purple flowers. A sea of purple as far as we could see, and in the distance, the Temblors covered in yellow. Combined with a cloudless blue sky, this view took our breath away.

As the day wound down, we made our way back to the southern entrance of the park to head home. Before we reached the exit, we came across yet a few more hillsides completely covered in yellow. When something is this beautiful, you simply can’t drive by, so we got out to take our day’s final photos.

After twenty-four hours in the park, it was time to bid farewell. We made our way back to Santa Maria, stopped for dinner and headed home.

Whatever you’re doing now, you should be making plans to see this phenomenal super bloom before it ends. There’s something about the Carrizo Plain. The more we visit, the more we want to keep coming back. We think you’ll feel the same!

A hillside covered in Coreopsis at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

A hillside covered in Coreopsis

Photo by Steve ~ iPhone 7 Plus

The Temblor Range washed in yellow at Carrizo Plain. Let's Photo Trip

The Temblor Range washed in yellow

Photo by Gabe ~ Fuji X-E2

12 Comments

  1. Marge Michaels

    Stunning photos!

    Reply
    • Steve Wilson

      Thanks, Marge. We sure love it there!

      Reply
  2. Sarah Emery

    Omg you guys really explored! Theres so much there i havent seen. I’m excited to go back and check out some of these areas.

    Reply
    • Steve Wilson

      You’re right, Sarah! Our fourth trip there and still so much we haven’t seen. Go back and explore some more yourself!

      Reply
  3. Hanna Yamamoto

    What beautiful photos! So beautiful that I had to get check them out for myself yesterday 🙂
    Thank you so much Gabe and Steve for the inspirational blog post!
    Can’t wait to go back again soon!

    Reply
    • Steve Wilson

      We are so happy that you made it out there! That place is amazing, right? We knew you’d love it!

      Reply
  4. Roger Camero

    Thank you both for the inspiration to make the trek from OC to CPM! Although I only had one day to explore, it was well worth the effort! I used your write up as a loose guideline to find spots that looked interesting to me.

    Once I made it to CPM, I quickly realized the unbelieveable vastness before my eyes. Everywhere I turned was something amazing for me to see. You can truly get lost in the grandeur of it all 🙂

    You bet I’ll be making a return to CPM in the near future!

    Reply
    • Steve Wilson

      Roger, it’s awesome that you went up to Carrizo Plain! You caught it just in time to see some amazing flowers, but the truth is that the Plain is great year-round. You will definitely want to return. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  5. Pretty Seth

    Steve and Gabe. Really Awesome pics. Have to check out the valley during bloom . This inspires me to visit San Luis Obispo again. Native of Chicago we visited SLO this May end and did the partial coastline upto Monterey coming from North SFO interrupted due to landslide. On our return we drove Highway 101 going North then drove towards coastline upto Hearst castle. That drive was phenomenal through a valley. Reminds me of your pictures. Can you please give more specifics on how to get to above valley from 101.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Steve Wilson

      Seth – so glad you’re thinking about visiting the Carrizo Plain!  We’ve been several times now both for day trips and camping – and we can’t wait to go back.  There’s just so much there to explore!  If you’re coming from Southern California, exit Highway 101 at the 166 just north of the town of Santa Maria.  Head East for roughly an hour, past the town of New Cuyama.  Maybe 10 miles past there, the road turns into Highway 33 as you keep heading Northeast.  Highway 33 also heads south from here, but save that for another trip …  A few more miles ahead on the 33, just past Hudson Ranch Road, you’ll make a left turn on to Soda Lake Road.  There’s an abandoned gas station and not much else there, so keep a good watch for that turn.  From there, you’re just a mile or so from the southern entrance to the Plain.  The road alternates pavement and dirt, but it’s all passable.  If you’re heading from Northern California, again, take Highway 101, but enter from the northern end of the park.  Exit the highway in the town of Santa Margarita to follow Highway 58 Southeast towards the Plain.  The road here is a little more tricky, but keep an eye out for the Highway 58 signage and you’ll be fine.  Again, it’s an hour or more until you reach the northern terminus of Soda Lake Road, where you’ll make a right to enter the park.  From either entrance, be sure to gas up as you leave Highway 101 because there’s no services out here.  Let us know what you think!  We’re sure you’ll love the Carrizo Plain as much as we do!

      Reply
      • Pretty Seth

        Thx Steve. Was very informative. Will Def head out next year. You say what time of year is best to enjoy this floral display???

        Reply
        • Steve Wilson

          We went in April of this year during the super bloom. If it rains a lot this next year there may be another incredible floral display.

          Reply

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