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Ultimate Guide to Burro Flats Painted Cave, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Ultimate Guide to Burro Flats Painted Cave, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

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Man has strived to leave his mark on the world for as long as history has been recorded. Images on pottery, carvings in temples, down to the simplest of drawings on cave walls. Burro Flats Painted Cave in California is no different – it is a record of the past for those of us in the present. It is up to us to maintain them for the future.

Ultimate Guide to Burro Flats Painted Cave, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Burro Flats Painted Cave is a wonderful glimpse into the past, and one of those places you wish you could visit if your travels take you to California. Sadly, it is privately owned and not an option for the majority of us. It isn’t even safe to visit.


This cave is in a mountain between Simi Valley and Chatsworth and has Chumash Indian pictographs. The cave is on private land that Boeing-Rocketdyne owns, and the cave is NOT accessible to the public.

The cave is a small, hollowed-out portion of a long rock set in a grassy slope. The pictographs at the Burro Flats Painted Cave have been described as the best-preserved Indian pictograph in Southern California. Archaeologists have estimated that drawings are many hundred years old. You can find the replica of the photographs at the Southwest Museum. 

That makes this a Native American Artifact – and on the National Register of Historic Places. It is NOT a tourist location.

Burro Flats Painted Cave, California

History of Burro Flats Painted Cave

There is a belief among the experts that the drawings in the cave were the result of an effort between the Chumash and Gabrielino tribes in the 1400s to celebrate the solstice, as well as unity and friendship between the two tribes. Anthropologists claim that that the Burro Flats pictographs after 500 A.D. but before the arrival of the Spanish settlers. 

How Big is the Cave?

The Burro Flats Painted Cave is spread over a total area of 25 acres. 

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History of Burro Flats

The Burro Flats Painted Cave is a prehistoric site of archaeological significance and is famous for its rock art paintings and petroglyphs. The site has ample evidence of habitation. The Chumash of the Simi Valley & Tongva of San Fernando Valley has frequented the Burro Flats Painted Cave area.

There is a belief that the site was a meeting point between the two groups, and the rock art depicts both cultures. The cave was occupied from AD 1100 until AD 1820.   

After World War II, the land was purchased by North American Aviation for rocket engine testing. NAA formed the company Rocketdyne which merged with Rockwell International. This area was first described by Rozaire in the 1960s and later by Fenenga in 1973 and listed in the National Register in 1976. The listing is known as Burro Flats Painted Cave which is spread over 25 acres.

History of Burro Flats Painted Cave

In the latest development, NASA has offered to preserve the full Santa Susana area that houses the Burro Flats Painted Cave – a unique record of Native American pictographs. It has been said that the toxic clean-up would take almost 25 years to achieve and is probably not feasible. It does give the feeling that Burro Flats Painted Cave would never get opened to the public. 

Why are we talking about toxic clean-up?

In 1947, the U.S military was looking for a new way to propel objects into outer space and began testing liquid propellants in secret laboratories across America. In 1957, one of America’s first commercial nuclear power plants was built at the site, generating electricity for nearby Moorpark.

The plant’s 1959 accident is what led to America’s first partial nuclear meltdown. It would be decades later before this discovery was made, and even then only on the condition that they keep it quiet for safety reasons! Thanks to the lab’s negligence, it generated toxic and radioactive wastes that neighbors blamed for cancer and other illnesses.

Amazingly, with the testing of about 30,000 rocket engines, the area around the cave and the cave itself are still intact!. Tight security kept visitors away.

Over the years, NASA has admitted closely escorted groups of Native Americans “for ceremonial purposes,” but such treks have become increasingly rare. As the dangers of the contamination were realized to be as bad as it was, it simply wasn’t safe.

This is from 1976 but tells you a lot more about the Chumash Indians

Geological Cave Formations in the Cave 

Burro Flats is not known for any geological formations. It is famous for the Petroglyphs and the prehistoric cave paintings that adorn the walls of the cave. It is a priceless cave and the finest of its kind in the US.

The disappointing thing is that the cave is unprotected, as there have been instances of overzealous people trespassing into the property to get good pictures of the cave paintings. There have been many instances of petroglyph vandalism in Canada and Michigan, and one can only hope that such things don’t get repeated here.

The rampant exploitation of this priceless cave is genuinely saddening.  

Wildlife in Burro Flats Painted Cave

Toxic waste logo

The soil of the land is thoroughly contaminated; so, wildlife is non-existent here. This is sad as the area was used exclusively for cattle and sheep grazing throughout the Spanish and Mexican periods, and well into the American Period, until the mid-20th Century.

Animals seem to know where they can and can’t survive – and move on accordingly.

The Cave Tours

The cave has been kept out of bounds of the public, and nobody is allowed inside. There are, obviously, no tours of the cave at present. If the cave opens in the near future, then tours might take place. 

It seems highly unlikely as with the contamination in the area – and the current tribe trying to buy the land to protect it – we average people may never see it.

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Burro Flats Painted Cave Tour Prices and Discounts

No tours are available at present as the cave is closed. 

Is Burro Flats Painted Cave Cold?

It is difficult to assess the temperature inside the cave as entry has been restricted for a long time. It isn’t a large or deep cave and since it is in California, I would logically assume it was warmer than the average Karst Cave.

What to Wear?

The temperature near the cave can get a bit chilly in winter. You can carry a light jacket if you decide to come here although you will not be allowed to enter. Realistically, you should wear a hazmat suit to be safe from radiation.

Man putting on a hazmat suit

Burro Flats Painted Cave Hours

The cave is open 24/7 – just not to tourists. It isn’t something you want to risk your health to see.

What to Do at Burro Flats Painted Cave (Beside Tours)

A sacred Indigenous artifact, the Burro Flats Painted Cave, is located on NASA’s portion of the Santa Susana Field Lab. This entire area is contaminated with toxic waste and the clean-up effort is to take about 25 years. I would suggest looking at nearby Simi Valley or Chatsworth California.

Both areas have plenty of things to do for both outdoor enthusiasts and also those who like history and art.

Toxic contamination

Best Time to Visit Burro Flats Painted Cave 

Again, this is a Native American Artifact – and has toxic contamination. It isn’t a cave for visiting. There is NO “best time” as there are absolutely no tours or visits at this time. 

How to Get There

Burro Flats is three miles south of San Marcos Pass. One needs to take Highway 154 out of Santa Barbara and take a right turn on Painted Caves Road. The cave would be located on the left, around two miles up a narrow strip of road. Trailers are advised not to attempt this road. 

Hotels Near the Cave

A few accommodation options are there, but not much as the destination is closed for entry. Hence, the footfall here is pretty low. Again, stick to Simi Valley and Chatsworth for any lodgings.

Download our Burro Flats Painted Cave Guide (Unofficial)   

Is Burro Flats Painted Cave Haunted?

The Cave is on the old Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in the Simi Hills. The lab was infamous for many nuclear reactor accidents and a partial meltdown. While there isn’t any knowledge of actual hauntings, if I had been one of the local people who had died from the poor handling of the toxic waste, I would certainly be hanging around to make someone’s life difficult. 

Visiting Burro Flats Painted Cave 

Maybe, in the future, this will be an option. It will take at least 25 years for the full contamination clean-up – and, it is possible that the local Chumash tribe will buy it to preserve it. As of now, the only way to get more info is through the internet. 

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