Camping Guide:Carrizo Plains National Monument

a superbloom in full effect at Carrizo Plains national monument

Have you ever wondered what California’s Central Valley was like before civilization flocked en masse to what is arguably the US state with the most diverse landscape?

Wildflowers painted rolling hills with colors straight out of the Wizard of Oz. Elk and antelope roamed more beautifully than any song could convey and a peacefulness that only an utter lack of human intervention can provide settled across everywhere the sun would shine.

Salt flats in the form of Soda Lake contrast sharply with the surreality of those lucky enough to experience a superbloom. Ridges and mountains formed by the San Andreas Fault raise and lower the landscape, even as this grassland is otherwise undisturbed by trees and large vegetation. It is paradise for those searching for a place to relax, explore and take in mile after mile of uninterrupted scenery.

Carrizo Plains is located an hour and a half from coastal Pismo Beach, California, three hours from Los Angeles and just under five from San Francisco. You’ll need to bring everything with you, there are no services, including water (most of the year) or gas, with the nearest amenities being at least an hour away. Solitude, indeed.

This is California as it was meant to be, stunning, raw and unadulterated. Winters are still cold and wet, though rarely freezing, with the spring and summer months boasting the most colorful wildflower displays.

Camping at Carrizo Plains National Monument

The monument itself has two campgrounds, with additional dispersed camping (no official campground, just finding an existing camping spot on Bureau of Land Management property) available as well. All camping in the national monument is free.

KCL Campground (GPS: 35.0905, -119.7351) and Selby Campground (GPS: 35.1282, -119.8409) are the most centrally located campgrounds in the national monument. Each holds about a dozen campsites, all equipped with a picnic table and fire ring. There are no bathrooms or showers, though basic pit toilets are provided. Trails lead immediately from either campground into the wilderness. KCL has additional dispersed camping available if all of the actual sites are taken. Cell service is essentially non-existent and all camping is first-come, first-served.

Should you wish to get even more remote than these spots, dispersed camping is available on Elkhorn Road (GPS: 35.2471, -119.8023), and this is perhaps the most gorgeous of places to camp. Just be sure to pack everything out that you bring with you, as this type of camping doesn’t provide trash or amenities of any kind. If uncertain as to exactly where you can camp, drop in to the visitors center and ask a ranger, they’re incredibly helpful!

Camping in Los Padres National Forest

About an hour south of the national monument, abundant free camping is available in the Los Padres National Forest. Don’t expect much in the way of conveniences, you’ll still be far from gas, food and water, and even a pit toilet is a rare find, but just as with Carrizo Plains, the beauty here lies in the absence of man’s hand.

Ballinger Campground (GPS: 34.884, -119.4449) is rolling scrub desert, popular with off-road enthusiasts.

Valle Vista Campground (GPS: 34.8782, -119.3416) is a forested area, with picnic tables and pit toilets.

Toad Springs Campground (GPS: 34.8606, -119.2285) has access to picnic tables, pit toilets and water.

McGill Campground (GPS: 34.8139, -119.1024) is camping beneath large pine trees, also with picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets.

Marian Campground (GPS: 34.8803, -119.2174)

Caballo Campground (GPS: 34.8687, -119.2262)