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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 30

Go outside!

Outdoor enthusiasts share their favorite local hikes


Among its many charms, Santa Barbara County is also home to some of the best hiking trails on the Central Coast, offering spectacular views and much-needed outdoor activity for all levels of hikers and backpackers. With so many options available, there are plenty of trails within an hour’s drive to add to your bucket list, no matter what shape you’re in.

Worthwhile walk:
The woody Cold Spring Trail is full of steep, challenging inclines, but the spectacular views of Santa Barbara and Montecito from the trail’s hills and peaks are a just reward.

Dave Everett is a physical therapist and co-founder of the Multi-Use Trails Coalition, a Santa Barbara-based group promoting hiking and biking trail awareness and sustainability. Most recently, the group took part in a trail fix-up event at Cold Spring Trail on Sept. 29 in conjunction with National Open Lands Day, where more than 100 volunteers created water drainage pathways to help prevent erosion. As a hiking trail advocate, Everett certainly has his favorites.

His top choices for the best hikes in the county are the many trails in Mission Canyon, a suburb of Santa Barbara, which includes the highly popular Tunnel, Jesusita, and Rattlesnake Canyon trails, as well as the unofficial 7 Falls trail. Besides the proximity to downtown Santa Barbara, where he grew up, Everett is fascinated by the trails’ history, so much so he’s working on a book on the subject, which he hopes to put out by next year.

“The first trail I ever went on when I was about two years old was the Jesusita Trail, and the first place I ever went on a group hike was Rattlesnake Canyon in the Boy Scouts,” Everett recounted. “There’s just a lot of memories. It’s a great area with great views, and it’s a great workout.”

The Jesusita in particular is a moderately difficult trail, about two miles out and back, but hikers can also continue onto a junction to Inspiration Point, overlooking the city of Santa Barbara. To get to Mission Canyon from the North County, take Highway 154 toward Santa Barbara, and follow CA-192/Foothill Road north.

Mission Canyon is also the favored spot for Diane Soini, who runs a popular online hiking and biking trails resource called She ranks the area’s Rattlesnake Trail as her top choice in the county, because it’s relatively less strenuous than other trails in the Santa Barbara front country, and has more shade.

Mountain bikes also aren’t allowed on the trail, so hikers can let their guard down, Soini explained. It’s also varied; a connector to the Tunnel Trail allows for a more strenuous hike, or hikers can also opt to climb to the trail’s summit at Gibraltar Road, walking up a half-mile to a climbing rock.

For hikers wishing to push themselves a little more, the 14-mile Cold Spring Trail loop, located off of Mountain Drive, offers fantastic vistas for those willing to brave its steep inclines. The trail runs parallel to a woody creek for the first two miles, before becoming rockier and more difficult.

“You can climb to Montecito Peak for a challenging goal, rewarded by great views of the city, the ocean, and the Channel Islands,” Soini wrote in an e-mail to the Sun. “On a clear day you can see all the way to Oxnard and beyond.”

At a little more than two miles long, the trail’s West Fork is shorter and not quite as strenuous. Backpackers who want to take an extended trip can start by climbing up to East Camino Cielo Road and then continuing past Forbush Flat Camp into Blue Canyon or Mono Canyon, Soini explained.

Also tops on Soini’s list is the Manzana Trail in the Los Padres Forest’s San Rafael Wilderness. Hikers can park at the Nira trailhead east of Los Olivos and hike east on the trail to a remote area with primitive campgrounds and wading pools. While hikers might spot tracks from bears and lions, Soini cautioned, the animals themselves tend to be elusive.

Hikers can also make a day of the Manzana, or backpack over several nights, along the way passing several campgrounds: Lost Valley, Fish Creek, Manzana, and the Manzana Narrows. More adventurous backpackers can take the entire four- to five-day loop along the Sisquoc River, returning to the Manzana Schoolhouse. In the spring, hikers on the loop report seeing plenty of wildflowers.

“Some of the most dramatic and amazing scenery in the San Rafael Wilderness can be seen on this trail beyond Manzana Narrows camp in the area called White Ledge,” Soini wrote. “There are dramatic sandstone cliffs, and you can imagine the Chumash living here long ago.”

The Manzana trail can also be taken toward Dabney Cabin and the Manzana Schoolhouse. Soini suggests hikers park about a quarter-mile before reaching the Nira campground, and head west. The route includes Potrero Camp (1 mile in) and Coldwater Camp (about 3 miles) and the Manzana Schoolhouse (about 8 miles).

“There are many more creek crossings on this trail, making it quite a challenge in the spring sometimes,” she said. “In the early part of the summer there is enough remaining water to make the creek crossings a refreshing opportunity to cool off.”

Another offshoot of the Manzana trail is the Lost Valley Trail. Hikers start at the Nira campground and veer northeast after about a mile onto the Lost Valley, where wildflowers displays are plentiful in spring. About six miles in, hikers encounter the impressive rock formations of Hurricane Deck.

Near the Manzana in the San Rafael Wilderness lie a few more of Everett’s favorites: the fairly easy Little Pine Mountain trail, the tougher Ranger Peak trek, and Figueroa Mountain’s Davy Brown Trail. The 7.5-mile Davy Brown descends 3.5 miles to a creek, and back up nearly 3,000 feet into a breathtaking overlook of the Santa Ynez Valley. Most of trailheads in the San Rafael Wilderness can be reached by taking Highway 154 east, and heading north on Happy Canyon Road, or by taking Foxen Canyon to Figueroa Mountain Road.

Another highly popular North County trail, but one recommended for the experienced hiker, is the Point Sal Overlook. Located off Brown Road near Casmalia, this 12.5-mile trail can be grueling, but the spectacular views and dramatic drop-off at Paradise Beach makes the time-consuming trip well worth the effort. Hikers advise you set aside an entire day for the trip, and of course, take plenty of water.

Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas would like to hear about your favorite trails. Contact him at

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