Oso Flaco Lake Trail

Santa Maria Valley + Santa Lucia/La Panza Mountains, California

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Oso Flaco Lake Trail


  • Beautiful canopied trees leading out to the lake.- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Great blue heron.- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Here's the first peak at the lake on the right side of the trail leading in!- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Bridge out across Oso Flaco Lake. - Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Bird watchers taking in the sites.- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Oso Flaco Lake is full of life! You could sit here quietly for hours and see new things the whole time. - Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • The boardwalk is incredible because it is ADA accessible all the way to the beach overlook. - Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Throughout the walk to the beach there are a few areas to stop and rest. Excellent bird watching opportunities!- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Can you believe this is in the middle of a sand dune system?- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Protected sand dunes for a few different threatened species, such as the snowy plover and the least tern.- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Beach access to incredible views!- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • San Luis Bay and all its aviary wonders.- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  • Taking in the views from the Oso Flaco Lake Trail.- Oso Flaco Lake Trail
Overview + Weather
Bird watching. Beach views. Sand dunes. ADA accessible.
Moderately trafficked.
Santa Maria Valley + Santa Lucia/La Panza Mountains, CA
Pets allowed: 
Highest point: 
30.00 ft (9.14 m)
Year round: 
Parking Pass: 
Permit required: 
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Spring, Fall
Total Distance: 
1.70 mi (2.74 km)
Total elevation gain: 
22.00 ft (6.71 m)
Trail type: 
Trailhead Elevation: 
23.00 ft (7.01 m)
Typically multi-day: 
Current Local Weather:
Hike Description

Hike Description


Interestingly, the name Oso Flaco, which means "Skinny Bear," comes from a rather gruesome story about Gaspar de Portola’s expedition through the area in 1769. It is said that a group of men saw a skinny bear walking along the shore, shot it, and ate it, not knowing that the native Chumash people may have fed the bear tainted meat to make it sick to become a non-threat to the scarce resources in the area. Tragically, several of the men died the next day. Although the area has a sad past, there are few places in California that are as rich with life as Oso Flaco Lake.

Oso Flaco Lake is an easy, astonishing bird watching opportunity located in the Santa Maria Valley. An abundance of arroyo willows and wax myrtles provide food and shelter for the vast variety of bird species, fish, and other small creatures of the marsh. With a little effort you will be able to spot song, golden, and white sparrows, American bittern, northern shoveler, ruddy duck, sora, belted kingfisher, osprey, red-tailed hawk, herons, egrets, and much, much more. It may come as a surprise that such a wet area can be found in such an incredible sand dune system. The Oso Flaco Creek, a riparian corridor, is the perfect resource to help this area flourish with life.

Getting to Oso Flaco Lake is quite easy. Just north of Guadalupe, California, follow Oso Flaco Lake Road until it dead ends in a small parking lot. Pass through the white gate to a large gravel road. After a short walk you will see a sign to the left that says "Beach Access." Follow it left onto the boardwalk. Here is an excellent spot for bird watching. There are a couple of benches on the boardwalk if you'd like to spend some extra time there before moving on. Bring your binoculars or camera! Once you've had a enough time to observe the hundreds of species sharing the lake, continue on toward the ocean. Along the way you're sure to see lizards, more birds, beautiful wildflowers, and a variety of dessert plants.

Approximately halfway through the trail, there will be vault toilets and additional resting areas as needed. Once you reach the end of the boardwalk there is a viewing platform to your left. Be sure to check this out before heading down to the beach. Incredible views of sand dunes, Mussel Point, and the Pacific Ocean await! Just to the right of the intersection is access directly to the beach. Some areas will be restricted to protect fragile habitats, but there is still plenty of space to explore and wonder. This is a perfect place for a romantic sunset walk along the beach or a picnic with the family. 

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Field Guide

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Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(4 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(18 within a 30 mile radius)

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