View of the cloud-covered Pacific Ocean from Rattlesnake Canyon Trail near Santa Barbara, California
Location: Foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara
Trail Length: 5.1 miles, out and back
Elevation Gain: About 1600 feet
Link: Rattlesnake Canyon Trail on AllTrails.com
Notable Features: Fairly strenuous trail heading up to Gibraltar Road. Some shade near the bottom of the trail, but exposed near the top. A good workout with great views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara.
View of the waterfall at the end of San Ysidro Trail near Santa Barbara, California
Location: Foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Montecito
Trail Length: 3.85 miles, out and back
Elevation Gain: About 1150 feet
Link: San Ysidro Trail on AllTrails.com
Notable Features: Gradual elevation gain spread over the length of the trail, waterfall at the end, which only had a trickle of water due to the drought in July 2016
Swimming hole off the Red Rocks Trail north of Santa Barbara, California
Location: Los Padres National Forest in the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara
Trail Length: 5.4 miles, out and back
Elevation Gain: Less than 150 feet
AllTrails.com: Red Rocks Trail
Notable Features: Mostly flat trail that winds through some forest and meadow, several swimming holes to cool off, trail eventually reaches Gibraltar Dam
View of the train tracks and the Pacific Ocean along the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail
In the late 1990s, a citizens group came together to purchase the land at Carpinteria Bluffs so it can remain undeveloped. Which is great news for those who visit this wonderful area.
The trail that passes through this open area is wide and well-graded. You can walk from the east end all the way into Carpinteria State Beach, where there are swimming and camping areas. There is a fee to drive in to the beach, but it’s free if you walk in.
The trail also passes through the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Rookery and offers several lookout points to watch the seals basking on the beach or playing in the water.
And finally, this area also has the Carpinteria Tar Pits, located close to the state beach, and is one of only five areas of its type in the world (the more famous La Brea Tar Pits are located a couple hours’ drive south in Los Angeles).
Hiking the Tahquitz Canyon Trail in Palm Springs, California
Tahquitz Canyon is a sacred area for the Agua Caliente tribe, named after a powerful shaman. It’s said that his spirit continues to live in the canyon and the mountain today, triggering unexplained natural phenomena at times.
Once you get into the canyon, it’s easy to see why the tribe’s ancestors sought refuge in this beautiful canyon during the hot summer months in the desert. A stream flows mostly year-round alongside the trail for most of the mile-long journey to the falls. The waterfall itself is a powerful 80-foot wonder that drops into a pool at the base of the mountain. You can swim in the pool for as long as you can endure the chilly water.
The hike to the falls gains about 300 feet in elevation, and due to the area’s sacred status, the tribe asks hikers to stay on designated trails.
There is an admission fee to gain entrance to the trail, and you can hike it on your own or join a guided tour.
Butterfly on the Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California
The Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail, which is part of Topanga State Park, is a relatively flat (300 feet in elevation gain) and easy trail that starts above the town of Pacific Palisades and leads to the waterfall in the name, a trip of about 2.25 miles round trip.
It is a good trail for kids, but watch out for the plentiful patches of poison oak lining the trail, often very close to the walking path. There is a trail junction about half a mile from the trailhead. One path leads to the waterfall, while the other heads to Trippet Ranch and the Musch Trail to Eagle Rock, a steep strenuous hike of about 3.5 miles from this point.
Thanks to California’s ongoing drought, the waterfall was fairly disappointing as of Spring 2016. There is a trickle of water bouncing down the rocks, and at the base are several small pools that contain newts.
This is an out-and-back trail so once you’ve had your fill of the falls, simply turn around and head back to the trailhead via the same route (while continuing to watch out for all that poison oak).
Musch Trail to Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park, California
When I asked the ranger what trail I should take on my first visit to Topanga State Park, her answer was immediate: “Go to Eagle Rock.”
The trailhead starts at the Trippet Ranch parking lot and is a slow uphill trek that starts in forest and after you pass through the Musch Camp, continues through meadowland. Total elevation gain is about 750 feet, and that includes scaling Eagle Rock itself.
Eagle Rock becomes visible to the north as the main focus of the landscape once you reach Eagle Junction and continue up the wide fire road. Once you reach the rock, it’s an easy climb to the edge to look out over the homes in affluent Pacific Palisades and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
To return, head back to Eagle Junction. From there you can either return back down the Musch Trail or take the more direct fire road, which also drops you back at Trippet Ranch. I took the fire road as it was getting dark and logged about 4.5 miles total on this loop.
Hiking to the wind caves at Gaviota State Park
The journey to the Gaviota wind caves is just over 2.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 700 feet. It’s a small price to pay for the amazing views of the Gaviota area and the ocean, as well as for the chance to poke around in the caves themselves.
The trailhead starts at a gate leading up a fire road, which you’ll follow for about half a mile until you reach a trail sign pointing in the direction of a dirt track to the left. There’s a fairly steep incline through a meadow and keep an eye out for a trail spur leading to the left toward a small rock-lined ridge. You’ll want to follow that instead of heading right on the more well-defined trail.
Shortly after that split, you’ll reach the first couple of caves. A little further on and you’ll reach several more – and these are the ones with the best views of Gaviota, the ocean, the railroad bridge and the oil rigs beyond. Most are big enough to duck into – you can even stand upright in some.
After reaching the caves, you can continue on to explore the network of trails criss-crossing Gaviota State Park or return to the trail head by reversing course back down the trail.
McMenemy Trail in Montecito
For a great view of the expensive homes and landscapes of Montecito, take a climb up the McMenemy Trail. Supposedly you can even see Oprah’s house… although to be honest, I don’t know which one it is.
The McMenemy Trail starts out down the Eucalyptus lined street of Park Lane, itself a lovely view. The well-maintained path climbs slowly during the first half mile and rejoins upper stretches of Park Lane (with prominent No Trespassing signs glaring at you) until it hits a gate. Continue to the left around the gate as the trail parallels the creek through the woods. Once you reach another fork, stay left again and hop over the easy creek crossing.
At this point, the trail climbs more quickly as it rises out of the forest, giving you views of Montecito and the Pacific Ocean beyond. In just under a mile and a half, you’ll reach McMenemy Bench, named after Col. Logan T. McMenemy. The bench serves as a resting stop before heading back down to the trailhead.
Hiking the Franklin Trail in Carpinteria, California
The Franklin Trail is one of the many hiking paths that lead north from the town of Carpinteria up into the Santa Ynez Mountains. The trail is fairly steep but very well-maintained. I turned around after about 2.3 miles and just over 1,000 feet of elevation gain at a swing made from a tree branch. However, the Franklin Trail continues on to connect with a network of other trails that spread throughout the foothills and into the Los Padres National Forest.
From the Franklin Trail, you’ll get amazing views of Carpinteria, the Pacific Ocean and (on a clear day) the Channel Islands.
There is an ongoing fundraising project aimed to continue the construction and maintenance of the Franklin Trail. Learn more at franklintrail.org.