The most demanding thing when selecting the best hikes in Santa Barbara might be deciding which trails to enjoy. Choosing among the vast number and variety of trails in the Santa Barbara area can be a bit of a challenge – to the point that you might be tempted to simply relax on your terrace or the terrace or deck of your favorite local café, pub or winery. Don’t! Aesthetic treasures and (enjoyable) exercise await.
Although sorting through over 50 Santa Barbara area trails, with Montecito alone hosting nearly 100 miles of them, sounds like a difficult task, helpful websites abound, including those of the Montecito Trails Foundation and Santa Barbara Hikes. Begin with the curated list of local favorites on this page, then consult sites like the ones above if more information is needed. Happy hiking!
This is a fun hike for all ages thanks to its relatively short (half-mile out-and-back) distance, gentle grade, large “Lizard’s Mouth” rock formation, and awe-inspiring views. It’s a bucket list trek on the way to or from the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley via Hwy 154, San Marcos Pass. From Santa Barbara, head up the Pass for approximately 7 miles to the turnoff for West Camino Cielo on your left. The Lizard’s Mouth trailhead is about 3.5 miles down that road. (By the way, don’t be alarmed if you hear gunfire. The Winchester Gun Club is a few hundred yards away.)
A hiker once said, “The point of Inspiration Point is inspiration.” That might sound more like one of Yogi Berra’s famous quips, but if you have ever experienced this moderately strenuous hike, you probably agree. There are a couple routes to the spectacular 1,800-foot terminus of this trek: an approximately 3.75-mile, 2-hour roundtrip via Tunnel and Jesusita Trails, beginning off Tunnel Road; or a 7.5 to 8-mile route starting just above Foothill Road on San Roque Road. Whichever choice you take, you will be rewarded by world-class vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands, with dramatic Santa Ynez Mountain peaks as a backdrop.
For an in-depth description of the Inspiration Point routes, check out the Hikespeak website.
Its proximity to downtown (approximately 15 minutes), its usually abundant shade and at least a trickle of water in the creek make the Rattlesnake Canyon trail a favorite among the best hikes in Santa Barbara. Also helping this trek maintain its favored status is its somewhat easier terrain than many of the other choices. Mountain bikes are not allowed, and the 3.5-4-mile roundtrip means you can enjoy a good hike and still have time in your day to enjoy additional Santa Barbara activities. You’ll find a large sign at the trailhead, which is adjacent to Skofield Park on Las Canoas Road. Get ready for some nice ocean, island and mountain views.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Trails
The trail system in Santa Barbara’s 78-acre Botanic Garden offers more than a hike; it offers an education in the diverse flora of California’s Central Coast, as well as a glimpse into history. You will trek through a lovely meadow leading to a section of mixed conifers and redwoods, then down to Mission Creek where an aqueduct and dam – constructed in 1801 to supply Mission Santa Barbara – awaits. Continue along the creek and into the manzanita and arroyo sections.
Information regarding the modest entry fee and more is available at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden website.
This approximately 6-mile trek is a loop rather than an up-and-back. (The Romero Canyon Trail page on the AllTrails website provides interesting commentary on hiking it clockwise or counterclockwise.) The trailhead is clearly marked and reached just around the bend where Romero Canyon Road becomes Bella Vista Drive in Montecito. The initial 2 miles or so of the trail follows and crisscrosses a creek, then intersects with a dirt road where the trail continues to the left for a challenging switchback climb to East Camino Cielo. Hike toward the water tower and you can follow the old fire road back to the junction. You’ll have a couple of choices for getting back to the trailhead. As you must do on any of the best hikes in Santa Barbara, be aware of your surroundings, keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes (sometimes sunning themselves on the trail), and be prepared for flying insects – which can be held at bay with a simple paper fan. Above all, enjoy the tranquility and incredible views.
Another favorite trek of locals, Cold Spring Trail and its junctions offer several options. There’s an approximately 2.7-mile loop that provides what might be called a “comfortable challenge,” with good exercise, a pleasant mix of vegetation, varied terrain and great views. Longer hikes will take you to Montecito Peak and its world-class view, or, for quite a demanding 9-mile round-trip trek, all the way up to East Camino Cielo Road at an altitude of 2,675 feet. From there, the trail descends deep into the backcountry of the Los Padres National Forest. One more option that should be noted: There’s a trail that leads to Tangerine Falls, absolutely the most beautiful and dramatic falls in Santa Barbara County. Unfortunately, the flood and massive debris flow in 2019 devastated the trail and, at this writing, it hadn’t been fully repaired. It’s dangerous, to the point that several rescues have been necessary. The trailhead is at the apex of East Mountain Road in Montecito.
For more comprehensive information on Cold Spring Trail, head over to the Montecito Foundation and Santa Barbara Hikes websites. For great current hiker comments, scroll down the Cold Spring Trail page at AllTrails.
This easy to moderate hike is popular with Montecito residents thanks to its convenience and relative brevity. Think of the trail as a “Y,” with the base of its stem being the trailhead at Park Lane at East Mountain Drive. The initial section of the hike is just under a mile and runs through lovely Buena Vista Canyon. The trail bifurcates to the east toward Romero Canyon, and to the west toward San Ysidro Canyon and the San Ysidro Trail. If you want to make your hike a loop, continue on the San Ysidro Trail. It connects to Old Pueblo Trail and, ultimately to Wiman Trail and back to the road. The total hike is around 3.5 miles. Go east at the “Y” and the loop will be a bit more strenuous and longer. Either way, you’re guaranteed a rewarding trek – especially through the hidden gem of Buena Vista Canyon.
This is such a tranquil – some say magical – trail, some locals refer to it as the “Hundred Acre Wood,” after the revered location in Winnie the Pooh stories. It meanders through the 44-acre San Ysidro Creek Preserve. The trailhead on San Leandro Lane is marked by a small sign and white picket fence. Continue through a charming pastoral setting of old oaks and sycamores, with wildflowers in the spring. Stone bridges span San Ysidro Creek. This approximately one-and-three-quarter-mile well-maintained lollipop-loop trail is a perfect training ground for young hikers – both human and canine.
Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park
More a walk than a trek, this 1.2-mile trail embedded in the 230-acre shorebird estuary is well worth frequent visits. It allows you an opportunity to take in and appreciate a vital habitat that many of us take for granted. The trailhead is on Ash Avenue at Sandyland Road in Carpinteria. From there, you’ll be greeted by several educational displays describing the geography, common winged visitors, and more. Keep right to begin the trail or head left to the beach. About one-quarter-mile from the trailhead, Franklin Creek crosses the trail and often provides the best location for bird watching. NOTE: This is a nesting ground for migratory birds, so it’s important to stay on the trail and leave your pets and bikes at home.
Ojai is a mecca of health and wellness, and that includes opportunities for over 70 hikes. Here’s one of the favorites.
Horn Canyon Trail
This moderate to strenuous hike can be enjoyed at lengths ranging from 3 miles to more than 10 miles. From the trailhead off of McAndrew Road at Thacher School, the first mile or so crosses back and forth a few times across a stream while offering views down the Ojai Valley. At that point, a series of switchbacks ascend the canyon, or you can stay with Thacher Creek to create your own adventure while making pleasant discoveries along the way. The extended route climbs to a trail network along the flank of the Ojai Valley and, ultimately, deeper into the Topatopa Mountains. No matter where you choose to end your hike, you’ll be treated to wonderful vistas of mountains, valleys, and even the Channel Islands.
For a comprehensive description of the Horn Canyon Trail and it options, check out its page on Hikespeak.
This “Best Hikes in Santa Barbara” page will be expanding to include more favorite local treks. If you have one you think should be included, feel free to contact Cristal@Montecito-Estate.com
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