The wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain National Monument are reaching peak bloom, drawing visitors and locals alike to the far reaches of eastern San Luis Obispo County.
A rainy winter has led to the best wildflower display on the Carrizo Plain since 2017, when 80,000 people visited the bloom in April, according to Johna Hurl, the monument manager.
That’s twice the number of visitors the monument typically gets in a year, Hurl said.
“Visitation kind of depends on flowers,” she said. “With social media and people posting the flower pictures, people are real excited about coming out.”
Hurl said it’s a “really good year” for wildflowers, but she doesn’t like to call it a super bloom.
“It’s not a super bloom,” she said. “It’s springtime in Carrizo.”
If you haven’t made it out yet, now’s the time to go. To help you out, we’ve compiled a visitor’s guide of common questions and answers.
When should I visit, and how long will the flowers be in bloom?
Wildflowers are definitely putting on a show on the monument right now, so visitors won’t to be disappointed, whether they want to see the blooms up close or admire the panorama of the Temblor Range awash in yellow.
Hillside daisies, goldfields and blue valley phacelia are most prominent, according to the Wild Flower Hotline.
The hotline — managed by the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants — provides a weekly update of wildflower blooms throughout Southern California.
Hurl said the Carrizo Plain will likely see its largest crowds from last weekend to next. She expects the flowers to keep blooming through the third week of April.
What should I bring to the Carrizo Plain?
The monument is located in a very remote area of the county — the only available restrooms and resources are at the Goodwin Education Center, which is open Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Some visitors may have cellular service in certain areas of the monument, but others may not, depending on the carrier.
Those not familiar with the Carrizo Plain’s geography and landmarks may want to print out a map from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website at blm.gov/visit/carrizo-plain-national-monument.
At minimum, visitors should bring plenty of water, a full tank of gas and food or snacks, depending on the length of stay.
There is no trash service on the monument, so a trash bag in which to pack waste would also be a good idea.
Do you need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to visit the monument?
Visitors who intend to take Highway 58 and then stay on Soda Lake Road — the Carrizo Plain’s main road — likely don’t need a special type of vehicle for their trip. The entire length of Soda Lake Road isn’t paved, but it typically remains dry and passable.
“You’re going to see phenomenal flowers on Soda Lake Road,” Hurl said.
Those who want to explore side routes, such as Simmler and Panorama roads, should bring high-clearance vehicles, Hurl said.
But even vehicles equipped for off-roading can sink and become stuck in thick clay mud following rain, Hurl said.
Visitors should pay attention to signs indicating road conditions and bring shovels, boards, tow straps and other equipment if they intend to drive routes considered impassable.
The nearest tow company is far away, and some truck drivers don’t want to risk their own vehicles becoming stuck in the mud, Hurl said.
Can I walk into the flowers? Are pets welcome?
Yes, you can walk into the flowers growing on BLM land.
Hurl recommended visitors stay on trails others have already made into the bloom and avoid lying in the wildflowers or spreading blankets on top of them.
She said visitors also shouldn’t pick large quantities of wildflowers. Visitors can park parallel to the road but should not drive out into the bloom.
“Think of it as more people are going to want to come and see them,” she said.
Dogs are welcome, but they must stay on leash and under control.
Can I camp on the Carrizo Plain?
Yes, the monument has two campgrounds — Selby and KCL — and dispersed car camping is allowed in certain areas.
The campgrounds are first-come, first-served, and are full or will likely fill up fast, according to the BLM website.
The Carrizo Plain recreation guide describes the sites as “semi-primitive” with restrooms, picnic tables, fire rings, informational kiosks and horse corrals.
Outside of the two campgrounds, car camping is generally permitted in the foothills and mountainous areas — not on the valley floor or at Soda Lake, as there are sensitive biological resources.
Where should I go while I’m there?
The easiest places to go on the Carrizo Plain — and the most crowded — are Overlook Hill and the boardwalk along Soda Lake.
The hill provides nice views of the lake and valley floor, and the boardwalk allows visitors to observe the salty lake.
Beyond Overlook Hill, the Goodwin Education Center — which is open Thursday through Sunday — has restrooms, a mini museum, souvenirs and rangers who can provide tips and directions.
Toward the northeast side of the park, off Simmler Road, the San Andreas fault zone is also a popular attraction in the monument.
In addition, the BLM offers tours of Painted Rock, a sandstone formation painted with Native American symbols.
The first paintings were created 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, and it continues to be a sacred site for Chumash and Yokut descendents,
BLM management is now focused on “protection, preservation and public education, while respecting the Native American values of this sacred site,” according to the Carrizo Plain recreation guide.
Visitors can’t check out Painted Rock on their own at this time of year due to nesting birds. Guided tours are available from March 1 to July 15 on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To reserve tickets for a guided tour, visit recreation.gov.
Where are the closest available resources?
Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County and Taft in Kern County are considered the western and eastern gateways to the monument, Hurl said.
But both places are more than an hour’s drive away, so visitors won’t be able to get there quickly if they need something.