Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo County, CA

Carrizo Plain National Monument: Soda Lake Overlook and Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail

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Carrizo Plain National Monument: Soda Lake Overlook and Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail

    • Location: Carrizo Plain National Monument, eastern San Luis Obispo County. Both trail heads can be accessed from 7 Mile Road. The turnoff is on Highway 58, 51 miles east of San Luis Obispo, 35 miles west of I-5 at Buttonwillow and 55 miles west of Bakersfield. Soda Lake Overlook: From the turnoff on Highway 58, take 7 Mile Road for six miles to its ending at Soda Lake Road. (7 Mile Road becomes dirt shortly after the junction). Turn left on Soda Lake Road and drive 2 miles to a well marked parking area. Park either in a lot on the left side of the road or on the shoulder on the right side. Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail: Follow 7 Mile Road for 0.3 mile southwest of Highway 58 and then turn left on Elkhorn Road (dirt). Head south for 4 miles to a large dirt lot on the left side of the road. Note: Both Elkhorn Road and the dirt portion of 7 Mile Road may be impassible after heavy rains.
    • Agency: Bureau of Land Management/Bakersfield Office
    • Distance: Up to 4 miles (1.5 for Soda Lake; 2.5 for Wallace Creek)
    • Elevation gain: Up to 400 feet (100 for Soda Lake; 300 for Wallace Creek)
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: Up to 3 hours (1.5 hours for Soda Lake; 1.5 hours for Wallace Creek)
    • Best season: November – May
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • Recommended gear: sun hat
    • Dogs: Allowed on leash
    • Cell phone reception: Weak
    • Water: None
    • Restrooms: Vault style toilets at the upper Soda Lake trailhead
    • Camping: There are two campgrounds, Selby and KCL, at Carrizo Plain National Monument. Dispersed camping is also allowed. Click here for more information about camping.
    • More information: Descriptions of the Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail here and here; overall description of the monument including Soda Lake information here
    • Rating: 7

In the spring of 2017, the “superbloom” of wildflowers brought on by heavy rains during the winter made its way north from spots such as Walker Canyon and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and painted the Temblor Range that straddles Kern and San Luis Obispo Counties in bright yellows and purples, putting the Carrizo Plain National Monument on the map overnight. Despite the monument’s remote location, it is feasible to visit on a day trip: depending on traffic, it can be reached from downtown L.A. in three hours; less from the San Fernando or Santa Clarita Valleys.

If you can’t make it up here for the superbloom, don’t fret: there’s plenty else to see at this monument which spans nearly one quarter million acres. This post describes three short hikes (two of which share a trail head) that provide a nice sample of the interesting geological and topographical features of this landscape.

The Carrizo Plain is a flat valley approximately 2,000 feet above sea level, bordered by the Temblor Mountains on the east and the Calliente Mountains on the west and south. The monument’s dominant feature is Soda Lake, a large, seasonal body of alkali water. The lake can be seen up close by following a short trail through seasonal wildflowers, including fiddlenecks, goldfields and larkspur. You soon reach a boardwalk which crosses over the wetlands to a vista point. After enjoying the views of the lake and reading the interpretive plaques, head back to the parking lot, cross the street and follow a short dirt road up to another trail head (with restrooms). Here, a short climb brings you to the top of a small hill where you can enjoy impressive views of Soda Lake and the Temblors beyond.

The Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail is on the opposite side of the lake. It provides as close a view of the infamous San Andreas Fault as one is likely to find anywhere. Also of note is the discontinuous course of Wallace Creek, which has been offset multiple times by tectonic activity, most recently and notably by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 1857. An interpretive brochure available at the trail head or online here describes the seismic history of the area in greater detail.

Follow the trail north for a quarter mile to a four-way junction. An interpretive trail runs diagonally along the fault itself while another climbs to a ridge, following the course of Wallace Creek uphill and northeast. A mile of gentle ascent with wide-ranging views brings you to a barbed wire fence. It is possible to continue by following a makeshift trail along the fence line, but for casual hikers, especially on warm days, this is a good turnaround point.

If you have more time to explore the monument, consider a guided tour of Painted Rock or, for ambitious hikers, Caliente Mountain.

Goldfield flowers, Soda Lake, CA
Goldfields on the trail to the boardwalk
Fiddleneck flowers, Soda Lake, CA
Fiddlenecks on the western bank of Soda Lake
Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain, CA
Soda Lake as seen from the vista point
Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo County, CA
Looking south from the Wallace Creek trail
Wallace Creek, Carrizo Plain National Monument, CA
The seismically altered course of Wallace Creek
Wallace Creek, San Luis Obispo County, CA
Seismic rifts near Wallace Creek
Temblor Mountains, San Luis Obispo County, CA
View of the Temblor Mountains from the turnaround point
Wallace Creek, Carrizo Plain, CA
Heading back toward Wallace Creek

Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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