In this addition of 50/50 we head west to California, which is quite possibly one of the most popular destinations for racing and running within the silent sports world, particularly ultrarunning. Northern California and the Marin Headlands area are home to a plethora of trails. Although it is difficult to choose just one trail system, the Santa Barbara Trails are some of the best Cali has to offer. Situated in the rustic and beautiful Santa Ynez Mountain range offering panorami views of the ocean's coast. It reminds me quite a bit of Duluth, MN with its steep hills, and trail system overlooking Lake Superior, of course the winter months are much kinder in Cali. Recently there have been wildfires that have scorched and damaged parts of the front country. Although it will heal, it is essential that this wilderness be protected. Due to its location and other variables, the uncertainty still looms.
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By the 1950s many of the historic front-country trails had fallen into almost complete disuse. Among them were the Arroyo Burro, Franklin, and Romero Canyon trails. Concurrently, much of the private land, held in large blocks since the era of the land grant, was being broken up into smaller parcels. Foothill properties were subdivided and used for speculative purposes and ownership changed somewhat frequently.
As the land passed through a series of hands, owners became accustomed to the lack of trail use. In fact, many of the owners weren’t even aware that historic trails passed through their property. Once closed, few owners who found out about trails going through their properties wanted hikers to begin crossing their land again. Private property signs began to go up on many ranches and large land holdings.
Some who did so were avocado growers, such as the owners of Rancho San Roque, who feared that a fungus known as cinnamon root rot would be brought onto their property on the soles of hikers’ shoes. Others had purchased property away from the city to live in the peace and quiet the foothills offered and didn’t want scores of hikers invading their solitude. There were those, too, like the owner of the land above the San Antonio Creek Trail, whose land value would fall as much as $600,000, according to appraisals, should trail users be allowed to cut through the middle of their property.
Today, the Santa Ynez Mountain trails and those found in the back country are as popular as ever. Despite legal problems affecting a few of them they offer us something special: a place to get away when life in Santa Barbara gets a little too hectic; the joy to be found in a quiet canyon filled with the flow of cascading water and the cheerful sounds of chaparral birds; the physical release that comes from an energetic hike.
Few other locales have places such as these to offer their communities. In an environment where we can enjoy both the beauty of the sea and the majesty of the summit within minutes of one another, the mountain wall offers us still another of the treats which makes Santa Barbara so special.
The history of this land, the geology, the chaparral plant community, and and perhaps an understanding of ourselves can be found in the exploration of this country. There is also the heritage of the people who lived in this land—the Chumash, the pioneer miners, and the homesteaders.
The trails, and the hidden places to be found along them, are there to appreciate, and to enjoy. They are both beautiful and fragile, and they need the care of all of us.
These mountains have many messages to offer. Please take care of them
Demographics: Below are just a few of the excellent trail options that can be found along the Santa Barbara Trail system.
Arroyo Burro Trail
This hike is a challenge. It's one of the rare front country hikes that has uphill both on the way up and on the way back, and all of it is steep. It's a long hike, too. 12 miles.
You will have to hike part of the way on paved and dirt roads and through private easements that are constantly in flux.
The Arroyo Burro Trail is a historic trail. In the days before automobile travel trails the only way over the impenetrable mountain barrier between the coast and the interior. Arroyo Burro supplied a route for miners and other trade. The trail continues over the other side of the mountains to the Santa Ynez River. This other half of the trail is shady and very lovely, but not described here.
The hike is 12 strenuous miles round trip with an approximate 4000ft elevation gain. The gratuitous 500ft. drop you do in the middle of the ascent adds that extra 1000ft.
Cold Spring Trail and Montecito Peak
Cold Spring Trail begins gently in shade by a creek that almost always has plenty of water. After a gentle uphill for 1/4 of a mile you reach a bench by the creek where you can sit and clear your mind with the gentle sounds of small waterfalls. This bench is at the junction of the West Fork of Cold Spring Trail. To stay on the main Cold Spring Trail, continue from the bench without crossing the creek. The trail climbs up and out of the shade to an Edison road with power lines. If you are tall enough to see over the bushes you'll get a good view of Montecito. On the way up to this spot, be careful on one of those switchbacks that you don't head straight and get off the trail. You will end up on a loop trail that brings you back to the trailhead. Another place to find this loop trail is from the power lines by turning right (west) and following the Edison road. Either one of these detours will provide you with a nice short work-out hike perfect for after work or early morning, or just when you feel like a shorter hike.
After reaching the power lines the trail continues eastward in chaparral up a very steep, rocky climb all the way to East Camino Cielo Rd. Before reaching the top is a turnoff to Montecito Peak, a very steep, but short climb to a pointy peak in the mountain range. There is a box hidden somewhere at the summit for logging your triumphant summit. At the top of Cold Spring Trail at East Camino Cielo Rd. by the water tower the trail actually continues down the other side of the mountain and deep into the back country. That part of the hike is described under Camino Cielo Hikes as Forbush Flat and Blue Canyon.
Gaviota Peak and Campbell Trail, with a side trip to the hot spring
The entire trail is a wide path that leads upwards with successively higher vistas of the 101 freeway winding through the hills. There is vegetation along the trail but not enough to give much shade so wear a hat. The trail is uniformly and moderately steep most of the way but gets slightly steeper at the end. At the top of the peak you get a fantastic view of the ocean which is hidden throughout the rest of the trail since you climb from behind the mountain. There is a register kept in a sturdy metal can at the peak where you can record your achievement. A nice side trip is a short hike from the trailhead to a hot spring. It's nice to take a dip in the pool after the hike or just sit on the rocks with your feet dipped in.
• If you do Gaviota Peak, your total will be around 6 or 7 miles.
• If you do the Campbell trail loop, your total will be around 11 miles.
• If you just go to the hot spring, it's about 1 mile total round trip.
There is a fee to park your car. Last time I was there it was $2 but it could change. The trail is part of the California State Park system.
Tunnel Trail is one of the most popular trails in Santa Barbara. It is within 5 minutes from downtown and has enough twists, turns, and surprises to keep hikers interested. Unfortunately it's mountain-biker mecca, which means you are likely to be run off the trail.
Described here is the basic trail from the trailhead to La Cumbre Peak, the highest peak in Santa Barbara at 3995ft. Along the way are little side trails that you might be able to find if you are alert. If you are interested in an all day adventure you can try one of these steep, super-primitive trails, but use your head. People have gotten lost up there and have needed the Search and Rescue Team (and even Search and Rescue has gotten lost!) For that reason those trails aren't actually described here, but they are there for the discovery.
Tunnel Trail begins on the same paved road as Inspiration Pt. The road is an access road used by Edison and lasts about a mile until it becomes a dirt road. You can ride your bike or hike up the dirt Edison Road if you like. That is an excellent hike all its own.
Tunnel Trail starts a bit past the end of the pavement and goes up the mountain steeply for about 3.5 more miles. Along the way are gorgeous views of the city. The trail is usually very dry with one creek that runs only after rains. If you go up there shortly after a good strong rain you can see the waterfall, which can be impressive. The waterfall, when dry, is an impressive rock formation and makes a nice lunch/view spot. At the top you reach East Camino Cielo Rd. From there it is a short walk up the Road to La Cumbre Peak where there is an old fire tower, picnic table, and the fanciest outhouse I've ever seen. There are also breathtaking views of the rugged Back Country on the other side of the Santa Ynez range.
The hike is about 9-11 miles round trip (depending on if you go all the way to La Cumbre Peak) with an elevation gain of about 3000 ft.
Romero Canyon Trail
Romero Canyon is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers. The trail is shady and along a creek bed for the first half. There is a strong scent of bay laurel in the air. The creek almost always has plenty of water, making the first half of the hike a tranquil forest hike. Then about 2 miles up, there is a junction with a fire road. Mountain bikers often use this road because it offers a challenge without being a complete death trap. Follow the trail instead of the road for a challenging climb up and over the Santa Ynez range to East Camino Cielo Rd, which is a dirt road where the trail meets. Follow East Camino Cielo leftward to the water tower and follow the old fire road back down to the junction. Then choose to follow the shady trail or the interesting, shaley road back to the trailhead.
There are wonderful views of Montecito and the ocean from the summit of this trail, and sweeping vistas of the wild back country when you reach East Camino Cielo Rd. Keep your eyes open where the trail meets East Camino Cielo for a rusty sign announcing Romero Trail continuing down the hill into Blue Canyon, a nice destination for a backpack trip.
Currently the Santa Barbara trails have experienced sporadic wildfires, which seems to have been caused by a brush fire to prevent a wildfire in the first place; a paradoixcal situation you could say. I advise checking with the Santa Barbara Trails Alliance if you plan on treking these trails in the near future, as to see if any are temporarily closed.
Please pay great respect to this trail system, by leaving it cleaner and healthier than before. This trail system needs all the support it can get, so that its future does not remain uncertain.
Races: Santa Barbara 9 Trails, D.R.T.E. 100mile