Los Padres National Forest
The Los Padres National Forest includes two designated National Recreation Trails: the Piedra Blanca Trail and the Santa Cruz/Aliso Trail. The following trail routes are organized by Ranger District in alphabetical order:
Hiking Trails (and Scenic Vistas) at Cerro Alto Campground
Cerro Alto Campground is located at the base of Cerro Alto Peak for which it is named. The Forest Service maintained a fire lookout tower at the top of this peak until 1973. At an elevation of 2,620 feet, Cerro Alto Peak provides a commanding view of the Pacific coastline, Whale Rock Reservoir, Morro Bay, and the Santa Lucia Range of mountains.
Cerro Alto Trail: The climb to the summit is two miles of steep terrain that offers one of the finest views on the central coast. Sparse vegetative cover and high summer temperatures make this hike more enjoyable in spring and fall. Be sure to carry drinking water. The trail can be accessed from 2 points, campsites 17 and 22.
Cerro Alto Loop Trail: This trail is a more moderate hike that dips and winds along the East Fork of Mono Creek passing through a riparian woodland. The first half-mile passes by oaks, bay trees, ferns and madrone. Watch out for poison oak. Chaparral vegetation becomes more dominant as hikers ascend to a one-mile marker at an old road junction. After turning south and less than a mile walk, the Loop Trail intersects with the Cerro Alto Trail. At this point hikers can choose to climb the steep mile to the summit of Cerro Alto Peak and enjoy the spectacular views. Less avid hikers can proceed along the old road and switchback about 500 feet west to make the one-mile descent back to the campground. Be sure to carry drinking water.
Trails in the Santa Barbara Front Country
The Santa Ynez Mountains, rising from sea level to 3,000 feet, form a backdrop to Santa Barbara that adds greatly to the city's natural beauty. These mountains might seem impassable at first, due to the thick chaparral vegetation, but once you begin exploring them, you will find your way through them via the many stream-cut canyons.
For the most part, the trails described below follow these canyons. You will enjoy hiking along these streams, through the riparian vegetation, and coming across clear pools and waterfalls. Most of the trails continue to East Camino Cielo on top of the ridge, where they connect with other trails, providing access to the Santa Barbara backcountry, and ultimately, to the San Rafael Wilderness and the Dick Smith Wilderness. It is possible then, to reach a National Forest Wilderness by hiking out of the city of Santa Barbara! Some trailheads are adjacent to private property. Please respect private driveways and "No Parking'' areas.
Rincon Trail: This 2.5-mile trail is located near the Santa Barbara-Ventura County line. It follows a stream (which often affords good fishing) and finally ties with the Ocean View Trail. The level of difficulty is moderate. To access this trail, however, you pass through private property and you will need the property owner's permission.
Romero Trail: This trail is 4.5 miles long. It ends at East Camino Cielo, where you can pick up another trail to get to Blue Canyon and Pendola. Portions of the trail follow a stream, and it is rated moderate.
San Ysidro Trail: This trail begins on Mountain Drive. It is 4.5 miles long. After following the creek for about 2 miles, it makes a steep climb out of the canyon, ending on East Camino Cielo. Level of difficulty is moderate to difficult.
McMenemy Trail: This trail connects the San Ysidro, Hot Springs and Cold Springs Trails. It is 2.5 miles long, and rated as moderate.
Cold Springs Trails: These trails begin on Mountain Drive, 1/4 mile beyond the trailhead. The Cold Springs Trail divides into an East and a West fork.
East Fork: This route goes to East Camino Cielo. The first 1.5 miles is an easy hike, following the canyon. The last 3 miles are fairly steep and strenuous.
West Fork: The West Fork is 2 miles long with an easy to moderate grade. It follows a creek through a narrow canyon, then enters a large, semi-circular valley from which a 200-foot waterfall is visible. The trail then diverges from the creek and climbs up to Gibralter Road.
Rattlesnake Canyon Trail: This is considered one of the prettiest foothill trails. It begins 100 yards before the entrance to Skofield Park on Las Canoas. It is 3 miles long, and follows a creek past beautiful rock formations and clear pools. It is of moderate difficulty. This trail is closed to mountain bicycles.
Tunnel Trail: This 4-mile trail begins at the end of Tunnel Road and continues to East Camino Cielo. Although there is no water and very little shade because it does not follow a prominent canyon or creek, it does afford spectacular views as it rises to the east of La Cumbre Peak.
Jesusita Trail: The trail starts in Stevens Park. It is 4.5 miles long, following Jesusita Creek through San Roque Canyon to connect with the Tunnel Trail. The upper portion affords beautiful views of Santa Barbara, the ocean and the Channel Islands. The trail is rated easy to moderate. Please stay on the trail as it crosses private property.
Trails in the Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area
Hikers, backpackers, equestrians and mountain bicyclists will find several trails that begin in the Recreation Area. All are suitable for short day trips and some can be used to reach backcountry and wilderness campgrounds.
Aliso Trail: Located near the east end of Sage Hill Group Campground is a trail that offers both an opportunity for a shady 1-mile hike along Aliso Creek or a more strenuous 3.5-mile loop trail. The first mile is also a self-guided interpretive trail, so you may enjoy taking along one of the free Aliso Canyon Interpretive Trail guides. If you choose to continue the full loop, the next half mile is a moderate climb to a saddle and the ridge dividing Aliso Canyon and Oso Canyon. The walk along the ridgetop offers striking views and an overlook above the Santa Ynez River. Then the trail drops back down to Aliso Creek and rejoins the canyon trail.
Santa Cruz National Recreation Trail: This very popular trail begins at Upper Oso Campground. The first part of the trail offers 2 miles of pleasant hiking along Oso Creek. After meandering through a narrow sandstone canyon, past quiet pools, the trail opens up to views of Little Pine Mountain. At the signed junction, a short spur trail heads east to Nineteen Oaks Camp, a perfect place for a rest or lunch stop. Beyond Nineteen Oaks the trail begins the 3.5-mile ascent up the south side of Little Pine Mountain, a relentless uphill climb with a general lack of shade the whole way. Happy Hollow Camp is nestled under Jeffrey pines and black oaks on top of Little Pine Mountain. The trail continues another 5 miles to Santa Cruz Camp, and 1.5 miles beyond is the boundary to the San Rafael Wilderness.
Red Rock: Another popular hike is on either of two dirt roads that go upriver to Gibraltar Reservoir. They begin behind locked gates in the parking lot at the end of Paradise Road. The low road is referred to as the "Red Rock" trail where you will find several large swimming holes. A hike combining both the low road and the high road forms a pleasant 7-mile loop.
Matias Potrero Trail: The trail begins behind a locked gate 4.5 miles east of the Ranger Station. After a short steep section, the trail levels out and it's an easy 1.5-mile walk to Matias Potrero.
Arroyo Burro Trail: The trail leaves the Arroyo Burro Road east of Rancho Oso and travels up the north facing slope for 3.5 miles. Near the top of the ridge it merges with the road again and comes out on East Camino Cielo Road. Along the trail there are some nice specimens of Madrone trees, which are rarely seen this far south. You will recognize them by their smooth, red bark.
Camuesa Connector Trail: Look for a "trail" sign on the north side of the road about 3.5 miles from the Ranger Station. After crossing the river, the trail meanders 4 miles up the south slope of the river canyon and ties in with the Camuesa Road.
Trails in the Upper Santa Ynez Recreation Area
Hikers, backpackers, equestrians and mountain bikers have a variety of trails to choose from in this area. All are suitable for day hikes and two of the trails offer extended trips into the Dick Smith Wilderness. But remember, bicycles are not allowed in the Wilderness.
Mono-Alamar Trail: The trailhead is about 1 mile from Mono Campground at the point where the road crosses Mono Creek. From here it's a 5-mile hike up a dirt road that ends near the Ogilvy Ranch. Hikers can continue on a trail to the east of the ranch that follows Mono Creek and eventually meets the Alamar Trail and the Dick Smith Wilderness.
Indian Creek Trail: Two miles beyond Mono Campground there is a trailhead sign and a wide parking turnout on the north side of the road. The trail offers a pleasant streamside hike along Indian Creek. Lower Buckhorn Camp is 4 miles up the trail, perfect for a day hike lunch stop.
Agua Caliente Trail: Take the road to Big Caliente hot springs and park there. The trail follows Agua Caliente Creek for about 3 miles or so before it becomes fairly overgrown. About a mile up the trail is the Big Caliente Debris Dam, built in the 1930's to keep sediment from flowing into Gibraltar Reservoir. A large pool is at the base of the dam.
Cold Springs Trail: This trailhead is on the north side of East Camino Cielo at the Cold Springs saddle. It is only a 1.5-mile hike to Forbush Flat Camp, but there is a 1,000-ft. drop in elevation. The well shaded camp sits next to Gidney Creek near a remnant apple orchard that was planted by homesteader Fred Forbush in the early 1900's. Another 1.5-mile walk on the trail to the north ends at the Santa Ynez River, or take the trail that heads east out of Forbush Flat to reach the Blue Canyon Trail.
Blue Canyon Trail: The trailhead is 3.2 miles from the point where the pavement ends on East Camino Cielo Road. The 5-mile trail follows a narrow canyon with blue-green serpentine formations and 3 campgrounds along the creek. At Cottam Camp head north along the trail following the creek and reach the Santa Ynez River near P-Bar Flats Campground. Or continue west on a connector trail to Forbush Flat Camp. Blue Canyon has a small year-round creek flowing under alders, oaks and sycamores.
Jameson Reservoir and Alder Creek: Start your hike behind the locked gate at the east end of Juncal Campground. The first 2.5 miles is an easy walk along a dirt road under oak trees. A short climb brings you up on the south side of the reservoir, and the sum-off to Alder Creek is only 0.5 mile farther. This creekside hiking trail takes you past pools and waterfalls for 1 mile until you reach Alder Camp.
Hiking & Riding Trails in the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area
The Figueroa area trails offer an interesting variety of opportunities to explore this part of the Los Padres National Forest.
Zaca Peak Trail: Follows a ridgetop west for two miles from the Zaca Ridge Road. The west end of the trail drops down to the privately-owned Zaca Lake Resort. Unobstructed views of the Santa Ynez Valley and Zaca Lake basin are found along this route.
Sulpher Springs Trail: A very steep 4-mile trail takes you from Cedros Saddle north to Manzana Creek and the San Rafael Wilderness. The trail drops 2,100 feet in elevation as it passes through oak woodlands and areas of pine. There is a spring about mid-way from Cedros Saddle to Manzana Creek. From Cedros Saddle, the trail also goes south 2 miles to Zaca Lake, a privately-owned lake and resort where refreshments may be obtained.
La Jolla Trail (Ballard): A steep trail that goes into a canyon bottom where a spring feeds a nice cold stream. When you get to the bottom, you'll find the remains of an old CCC cabin. Ballard trail camp is in the canyon bottom. An easy hike down, hard work coming back. This trail is most popular in fall and spring. Summer finds the exposed hillsides not very inviting.
Catway O.H.V. Route: This 4-mile route is open to 4-wheel-drive vehicles and motorcycles except during wet soil conditions in the winter. This route serves as a 4-wheel-drive connector between Zaca Ridge and the Sunset Valley Road. The road is narrow so allow plenty of time to enjoy the drive.
Willow Springs: A 2-mile connector between the Zaca Ridge Road and lower Davy Brown Trail.
Willow Spur: A short connector between Willow Springs Trail and Upper Davy Brown Trail.
Davy Brown Trail: A steep trail that follows a creek the length of Fir Canyon. There is an old mine shaft and remnants of a miner's cabin along the way. You can take this trail downhill from Figueroa Mountain Road to Davy Brown Campground and have someone pick you up or hike uphill from Davy Brown. The trail winds its way through large Big Cone Fir, pine and Sycamore. It is always shaded, making for a great summer hike.
Munch Canyon Trail: Four miles long and originally constructed as a mining access road. Evidence of old mine excavations can be found along the route. This trail connects Sunset Valley to the Davy Brown Trail in Fir Canyon. A short spur connects to the East Pinery Road.
White Rock Trail: Takes you through some nice meadows while winding along a route from East Pinery to the north of Cachuma Saddle. You will pass by an old mine where chrome ore was once extracted.
McKinley Trail: Follows an administrative road 10 miles from Cachuma Saddle past Cachuma Peak to a saddle west of McKinley Mountain. From this point, the trail continues east into the San Rafael Wilderness. Most of the route follows the southern edge of the San Rafael Wilderness. The ridgetop location offers panoramic views of the Manzana drainage and Hurricane Deck to the north, and the Santa Ynez drainage to the south. The only reliable water is at McKinley Spring Trail Camp 9 miles from Cachuma Saddle.
Upper Manzana Creek Trail: Goes east up Manzana Creek from Nira Campground. This trail is a major access route into the San Rafael Wilderness and connects with other Wilderness trails. Manzana and Manzana Narrows are popular trail camps accessed by this route. They are 6 and 7 miles from Nira. The cool water with resident trout makes these trail camps popular destination points during spring and early summer. Winter storms frequently create high water crossing problems and can strand campers. Summertime heat can make this hike difficult.
Lost Valley Trail: Leaves the Manzana Trail about 1 mile above Nira. This route was originally constructed for fire access and climbs gently from Manzana Creek to Hurricane Deck. The gentle gradient and no major stream crossing make this a good trail. Stretch your legs and cover some distance.
Lower Manzana Creek Trail: Follows Manzana Creek northwest 8 miles to the Sisquoc River. At the junction of these two waterways is the historic Manzana Schoolhouse and the popular Manzana Schoolhouse Trail Camp. This trail is well suited for day hikes or as an access to other parts of the San Rafael Wilderness in the Lower Sisquoc.
Sunset Valley Trail: A short 2-mile trail that parallels the Sunset Valley Road from Sunset Valley southeast to the Fish Creek divide. The trail meanders through oaks, pine and chaparral.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication