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Caliente Mountain


San Luis Obispo County, about 7 miles northwest of New Cuyama, 145 miles from Los Angeles


Auto Club: San Luis Obispo County
Topo: Caliente Mtn 7½


Distance: 19 miles r.t. on road
Gain: 2,100' plus 900' on the return
Time: 7-10 hours r.t.
Rating: Class 1; Strenuous
Navigation: Easy

Original: Alan Coles - Aug 1990


  • Drive north on I-5 past the Grapevine Grade to SR 166.
  • Take SR 166 west to the town of Maricopa.
  • Continue on SR 166 for 9.2 miles to the junction with Soda Lake Road on the right. Turn right. Note your odometer and go as follows:
  • Drive 24.2 miles, staying on the main road, which alternates between paved and unpaved to a three way fork. Take the center fork.
  • At 29.2 miles, junction for the Shelby (Selby) Cow Camp. Turn left and pass through a seasonal gate. Note your odometer again and go as follows:
  • At 3.8 miles, fork. The left fork has a sign "Shelby Parking Area 1 mi.". The right fork is signed "Caliente Ridge Parking Area 3 miles". Turn right.
  • At 7.1 miles, a parking area on the right and a gated road to the left (east). Park here.


From the parking area (3900'), walk uphill about 0.2 miles to the ridgeline where you meet the main ridge road. Turn left (east) on the ridgeline road, which gradually curves southeast for about 9.5 miles to the summit. Wildlife guzzlers established by the BLM rangers and spaced two miles apart can be used to judge your progress for the first six miles. The road deteriorates and steepens after the final water spot (4500'). Mountain bikers may wish to stash their bikes near this point. The summit shack is reached after a final turn to the east. The register is found inside the shack.


Distance: 11 miles r.t. on road, trail and cross-country
Gain: 3,600' plus 400' on the return
Time: 6-8 hours r.t.
Rating: Class 2; Strenuous
Navigation: Difficult

Original: Tom Hill - April 2001


  • Drive north on I-5 past the Grapevine Grade to SR 166.
  • Take SR 166 west to the town of Maricopa.
  • Continue on SR 166 for 9.2 miles to the junction with Soda Lake Road on the right. This is the turnoff for Caliente Mountain Route 1. · Note your odometer and go as follows:
  • Continue west on SR 166 an additional 22.5 miles, passing through the towns of Cuyama and New Cuyama, to a paved road on the right with a gate marked "J.P. Oil." This is the entrance to an oil field marked on the USGS topo map as "Russel Ranch Oil Field." Do not drive through the gate, even when open. Instead, stop on SR 166 at the gate and look across to the opposite side of the main highway, where you will see a service road (paved) that joins from the south. Park near the highway on the shoulder of this service road.


From the parking area (1,820'), walk back to the oil field entrance gate and pass through, crossing over an immediate bridge, and continue straight for about 0.2 miles. Here the road ahead becomes obscure and a side road comes in from the left. Take this left fork, which shortly crosses over the Cuyama River, then curves northeast. Look to the northeast for some obvious ruins in the midst of trees. This is the site of Selby Ranch. Go there. A barbed wire fence marks the front yard of the ranch. Head due east along the fence line for 0.5 mile until the fence veers southeast. Find a gate opening, secured by wire, and pass through to the north side of the fence. Shortly beyond the fence you encounter a deeply eroded gully that has formed a broad valley that trends to the northeast. Head uphill into this valley, following cattle paths. Cross the gully to its east side where convenient.

About 0.5 mile into the valley (anywhere between gully elevation 2,000'-2,050'), a small ridge has appeared on your right and has gradually become more prominent. Leave the gully and climb to the top of this ridge. Head northeast up the ridge on use trail for more than a mile to elevation 2,940' on the topo map at the spot of the numeral zero in Section "20". Looking just ahead you will see a shallow dip in the main ridge and the largest rock formation so far, a house-sized boulder to the north (some say it looks like a frog). Look to the right (east), noticing a major ridge that comes down due east from the skyline, and notice the interesting erosion patterns at its foot in the large canyon nearby, 300 feet below. You go there next. Drop down into the canyon floor, then find your way onto the east-west ridge. This major ridge becomes the southeast ridge of Caliente Mountain, which you discover after climbing steeply about 1.5 miles to the Caliente Mountain ridge road. Turn right to the visible summit ruins.


Caliente Mountain is the high point of San Luis Obispo County. It is also the highest point within a vast grasslands area that was designated Carrizo Plain National Monument by executive order on January 17, 2001.

The BLM will occasionally allow reservations for Route 1 and will open the gates for ranger-conducted drives along the ridgeline, but not all the way to the summit -- the final stretch is on foot, usually 6 miles, 1200 feet of gain round trip. Leaders interested in scheduling such a trip will need to contact the HPS Outings Chair.

The seasonal gate at 29.2 miles on Route 1 is open from late March until the first rains or the last weekend in November. For road information contact the Bureau of Land Management at (661) 391-6000 or write to them at: Bureau of Land Management 4301 Rosedale Highway Bakersfield, CA 93306

Because of a lack of shade, outings to this peak are not advisable during the summer.

Route 2 takes you over and through several sedimentary rock layers that contain visible fossils.

The name, caliente, meaning, "HOT" in Spanish refers to the Ojo Caliente hot spring located in the Cuyama Valley.


The building on the summit is the remains of a World War II lookout tower. This was a lookout for enemy aircraft. Several of these lookouts were constructed in the panic following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This is the last of these lookouts that still exists at its original location. It is in very bad condition.

The Selby Ranch owned vast tracts of rangelands on the southern and western slopes of Caliente Mountain. The purchase of the ranch by The Nature Conservancy in 1999 made Route 2 possible and paved the way for the creation of the National Monument.

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Hundred Peaks Section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club
Published 10-May-2001
© 2001 - All Rights Reserved

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