The phylogeography of the California mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltis zonata, was studied using mitochondrial DNA sequences from specimens belonging to the seven recognized subspecies and collected throughout the range of the species. Maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood methods identified a basal split within L. zonata that corresponds to southern and northern segments of its distribution. The southern clade is composed of populations from southern California (USA) and northern Baja California, Mexico. The northern clade is divided into two subclades, a ‘coastal’ subclade, consisting of populations from the central coast of California and the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of eastern California, and a ‘northeastern’ subclade, mainly comprised of populations north of the San Francisco Bay and from the majority of the Sierra Nevada. We suggest that past inland seaways in southwestern California and the embayment of central California constituted barriers to gene flow that resulted in the two deepest divergences within L. zonata. Throughout its evolutionary history, the northern clade apparently has undergone instances of range contraction, isolation, differentiation, and then expansion and secondary contact. Examination of colour pattern variation in 321 living and preserved specimens indicated that the two main colour pattern characters used to define the subspecies of L. zonata are so variable that they cannot be reliably used to differentiate taxonomic units within this complex, which calls into question the recognition of seven geographical races of this snake.