San Joaquin Kit Fox – where to see in Carrizo Plain National Monument? Or elsewhere?

I want to photograph the San Joaquin Kit Fox  One place to do that is potentially the Carrizo Plain National Monument, which is a grassland valley in the mountains between Bakersfield and Santa Barbara in California.

I have seen references online to this being a good place, but if anybody has more specific locations, I would be grateful.

I came across this data – which is GPS waypoint data for the fox from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.   I’ve never seen sighting data from a government study posted online, so that alone is interesting.  The sightings all occur along the two main roads – Soda Lake Road and Elkhorn Road.   So this suggests a strategy of just driving up and down the roads, in the late afternoon, early evening and then again in the early AM.   So I am not sure the data is all that helpful, since the drive around approach is a standard thing to fall back on if you have no idea where else to look.


Post author

Nathan Myhrvold


  • vnsankar

    SJ Kit Fox is usually pretty easy to see on night drives, but photo ops can vary. I can offer the following locations as a start:
    – Carrizo Plain: they’re really common here (I’ve seen 13 in a single night drive 10PM-1AM once) and honestly can appear anywhere but in my experience the highest densities are along Soda Lake Rd between KCL Campground and Hwy 166 and Elkhorn Rd between the Panorama Hills and the Elkhorn Grade intersection. Very easy by spotlighting, and they are often even just running along the road at night. Good chances for badgers too.
    – Panoche: Little Panoche Rd between Mercey Hot Springs and Panoche Rd intersection (there is a solar farm in the valley, but you still see Kit Foxes in that area). I’ve seen kits a few times over the years between Mercey and Shotgun Pass. And even better, Panoche Rd between the end of the pavement at Silver Creek Ranch and Tumey Gulch. Be aware that the creek crossing on Panoche Rd is impassable this spring, and you’ll need to drive the long way around via I-5 and Little Panoche Rd to cover both sides… I usually see 5+ Kit Foxes on a single night drive in the latter area.
    You can also try visiting these same places early in the morning or at dusk. The foxes are often active, and you’ll get better photos vs. at night.

  • charleswhood

    Just to add to Venkat’s note, if you have a thermal scope, you realize eg at Carrizo how much “stuff” is out there beyond the range of the typical spotlight–mostly jackrabbits, but even so, a LOT of critters. Right now (April 2023) both Carrizo and Panoche are in the middle of superblooms (or so I have heard second-hand from bird reports). And as Venkat says, sometimes the foxes are tame / relaxed / right by the road, and other times… well, NOT. // Charles Hood

  • Nathan Myhrvold

    Thanks so much for the suggestions!

  • Nathan Myhrvold

    Just to follow up, I went to Carrizo plain in October 2023 and saw quite a few of the San Joaquin kit foxes. Photography was tough but I managed to get one decent picture. At some point I will try Panoche.

    • Jeff Baker

      Hi Nathan,

      I’m planning a trip out to the Carrizo in a few weeks, where did you see the foxes most commonly? And was it in the late afternoon or early morning?

  • Nathan Myhrvold

    All of the foxes I saw were along Soda Lake road, all after dark. The largest number were between the KCL Campground the south entrance to Highway 166. That recommendation originated with vnsandar in a comment above and it was very true for me. This map is very useful I only found foxes by spotlighting at night – they might be out near sunset or sunrise but I did not see them then. Most sightings were well after dark – I conjecture that had I gone from say 9pm onward I would have seen more. I also drove Elkhorn road, which looked to be good habitat but I drove that in late afternoon and early evening and saw nothing. I attribute that to being there too early. One of the days I got up early enough to arrive in the park a couple hours before sunrise and I saw some then too. All of the sightings were by spotlighting – I did not see any trotting along or across the roads. Note that navigating to the park with Google maps will take you to a spot deep in the park near the overlook for Soda Lake. I found it best to come along 166 and go via the south entrance. Soda lake road is good – part paved, mostly gravel. Elkhorn is mostly good gravel but rutted in a few spots, and some of the side dirt roads will have areas of deep ruts or damage from runoff of heavy rains last year. I had a rental suburban and it was fine, but in a couple spots. The side roads were not necessary for finding fox and indeed I never saw any there. I did the spotlighting with a handheld LED flashlight, and it worked well. I was spotlighting from the passenger side of the car while somebody else drove – if I had a third person we could have done a light on the drivers side passenger and probably would have seen 2X the number of foxes. As it was I saw about 14 sightings over 3 nights and one early morning. Bring good night binoculars if you want to see details on the foxes. Typically, the foxes would only be visible for a brief period – their eyes only catch the spotlight if they are looking more or less towards you. If they look in the other direction you miss them, or stop seeing them. The terrain is mostly flat or rolling hills – in spots the vegetation is a bit too high (i.e. taller than a fox) or too dense for the spotlighting to work well, but there are plenty of places you can see them.

  • Nathan Myhrvold

    One other point – if you’re there during the day – particularly in mid-afternoon – you can see California condors at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. This is off of Cerro Noroeste Rd – which is basically the other side of highway 166 from where Soda Lake road intersects it. You drive up into the mountains and stop at some pull offs to see them soaring. I saw one this way. Not a mammal, but while you’re in the area it might be worth a stop.

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