Added by Michael Wigle
- Distance: 5 miles
- Duration: Under 3 hours
- Elevation: 1700'
- Laid-back, quiet Santa Barbara canyon hike
- Short afternoon adventure best done after the beach
- Incredible coastal views all the way to the Channel Islands
If you love the mountains above Santa Barbara but hate the crowds, stick to the canyon trails on the east side. The trails running up Cold Spring canyon offer a variety of experiences without all the noise.
To find the West Fork of Cold Spring Trail, take the Olive Mill Rd. exit from the 101 freeway heading north. It becomes Hot Springs road at the top of Montecito. Take a left on East Mountain Road as it winds into the mouth of the canyon. You will see a few areas to park on the side of the road, just before the creek crosses the road at a ford. There are signs marking the beginning of the trail just to the east of the creek.
The trail is heavily wooded and in the early spring or after a rain, the creek flows pretty well. About 500 feet onto the trail is a bench overlooking a waterfall (after a rain) and a metal sign marking the beginning of the West Fork to Cold Spring Trail. There is a creek crossing which is very navigable, thanks to the large boulders. From here until the Cold Spring Tunnel the hike is under the canopy of the trees. In the afternoon, this side of the canyon is shaded, making for an excellent hike to get you out of the summer or autumn heat. At the end of the canyon, the spring goes back into a long closed off tunnel. Here the trail begins switching up the wall toward the ridge.
Loose shale makes parts of the goat track unstable, so stick to the high side of the path. The first ridge sits in the middle of the bigger canyon, and the trail looks to split left and right. Right will take you to a dead end about 200 feet up, deep in brambles and rocks, so go left down the ridge. There are a couple switch backs that go down, before winding around the larger canyon wall, and back up toward the main ridge.
At the top of the main ridge, the trail straightens out all the way to Gibraltar Road. This is the tricky part, as there is a trail straight up the summit from here. Lean into the hill and carefully ascend the shale peak. The gravel is loose but the views from the top are spectacular! Because Santa Barbara is southern facing, the winds are typically strong. They are known for kicking up sand and surf obscuring views from El Camino Cielo. This peak is much closer to the coast, offering great views on both clear and hazy days.
Slide down the gravel shoot, and retrace your steps back to the bottom. If you miss the creek crossing near the beginning, don't worry. The trail will drop you back on East Mountain Drive whether or not you cross the creek. If you leave the top before sunset, you won't need a headlamp. It's recommend to head back down before 5pm when the winds become the strongest. This is a perfect time to stop by the Enterprise Fish Company for their award winning happy hour that includes drinks and great fish!
- Trail Shoes
- Pants (poison oak flourishes here)
- Bug Spray
- Cotapaxi day pack
- Marmot Leadville Jacket
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