Cachuma Lake is a visible reminder of California’s severe drought with drastically lower levels than in previous years. But it’s still a wonderful place to hike, camp, fish, and boat (no swimming allowed though).
Sweetwater Trail is the main hiking trail at the lake, stretching from the southwest corner of the recreation area to the Bradbury Dam Vista Point, about 2.5 miles away.
The trail is well-marked, but thanks to the recent diminishing water levels, doesn’t get as close to the lake shore as it once did. There are little spur trails that take you down to the edge, but the lake patrol is very stringent on the no-swimming policy (the lake is the water supply for Santa Barbara, so no people or pets are allowed to enter it). The trail leads hikers up and down short hills, into wooded areas and through grassy meadows.
Dogs are allowed, and this is a good hike for kids, although some younger ones may not want to go the full five-mile round trip. There’s a general store in the park not far from the trailhead for a post-hike snack.
Directions: From Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north and exit at the Highway 154/Cachuma Lake exit. Take that approximately 25 miles until you see signs for Cachuma Lake Recreation Area on the right. Pay the $10 fee and turn left toward the boat storage to park near the trailhead.