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 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.
San Antonio Creek Trail, located in Tucker’s Grove Park, and as the name suggests, follows the creek of the same name for about 1.75 miles until the route ends at the northern trailhead at Highway 154.
The creek is currently dry thanks to the extreme drought in pretty much all of California, but it’s still a worthwhile trek through an oak woodland. The notable highlight is the large dam about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, and this point offers a break in the trees and a great view of the surrounding area.
This a great hike for kids or beginners as the elevation gain is very gradual and you can turn back at any time. As always in the area, watch out for poison oak if you venture off the trail.
Parma Park sits in the hills above the famous American Riviera section of Santa Barbara but is easily accessible and provides great views, including a little slice of Pacific Ocean around Montecito.
Parma has about five miles of trail winding through 200 acres wedged between two creeks, both of which are probably dry until the state’s historic drought passes. The trail shown below passes through oak and chaparral forest and rises steadily about 400 feet after turning north to the highest point, where there is a picnic table, dedication marker, and equestrian hitch for horses. There are still charred trees and stumps from the Tea Fire in November 2008 that burned most of the park.
There is very little shade once you start to climb the hill at the eastern point of the trail, including at the picnic table at the top, but with sunblock, proper clothing and enough water, this should be a good hike for both kids and adults in reasonably good shape.
Sweetwater Trail at Cachuma Lake
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.