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Lobo Canyon Trail via Santa Rosa Campground

Santa Barbara County, California



12.03 miles

Elevation Gain

984 ft

Route Type



Added by Jared Blitz

On Lobo Canyon Trail via Santa Rosa Campground you'll experience an otherworldly canyon hike inside a desert that explodes with variant plant life of magnifying colors that ends in a cove. 

The National Park Service describes this hike in the following:  "Strenuous.  A spectacular canyon with wind- and water-sculpted sandstone cliffs, a year-round stream, riparian vegetation, and a spectacular coast at its mouth.  Well worth the effort."

I couldn't agree more with the last sentence.  The immense beauty of the place made me feel like I was on an acid trip.

To my delightful surprise, Lobo Canyon ended up becoming one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever been on once I reached the actual trailhead and finally realized I wasn't lost.

Why would I feel lost?  Well, almost every trail on Santa Rosa Island begins with a dirt highway, not a typical hiking trail, since it's mostly used by the park rangers who switch off every week and researchers.  The highways are marked with small wooden signs, but they offer nothing in the way of signage on the island to encourage you that you're going the correct way.  It is important to know your map and trust that you can't really get lost since you can always find the highway.  I really wasn't sure I was going the correct way and just decided to keep hiking until I eventually came across the sign indicating I had made it to the Lobo Canyon trailhead.  The joys of hiking solo!

From the campground, you have to hike the initial 1.5 miles toward the pier.  Stay to the left of the red barns and look for the wooden sign that says "Smith Highway."  You're going to walk along a dirt road for what feels like 10 miles but is really only half that.  The park ranger had told all of us campers the day before that the hike was flat until you reach Lobo Canyon.  That's not true.  While the ground is certainly flat, you're hiking uphill the entire way.  It wasn't terrible.  Just unexpected.  And with that confusion, the lack of signs, and the heavy fog that you will encounter in the early morning that will prevent you from seeing 50 yards ahead in every direction (exhibit A - first photo above), that can make you lose confidence in the route you're going.  If you feel lost, fret not; you're headed in the right direction.

Eventually, you're going to run into a closed gate (photo with the ladybug above) that, to some, may make you believe the beyond is off-limits.  I really didn't give a shit at that point, so I unhooked it and learned that is indeed the correct way.  Just make sure you're kind and close the gate before you continue so the following hikers can suffer the same ethical concern.  Afterward, I learned the gate and fence were there because of all the cattle ranching that used to take place on the island.  There are still horses that live on the island that were sent there for retirement.

As you continue hiking you're going to come across a little fork in the road.  To the right is the trail toward Carrington Point (in the 3rd photo above) as a wooden sign indicates.  Straight ahead is Lobo Canyon, for which there is no sign and once again leaves you wondering if you're just walking along a dirt road for no reason.  Look down at your map to make yourself feel better that you are headed in the right direction.

Not too long after this point, you'll start to see the landscape change into a plant-filled canyon lit up with an abundance of green life.  It's a beautiful contrast to the dirt and fog you've been looking at for the last couple of hours.  From here you'll start to head downhill, slightly disappointed at learning the elevation you thought you gained over the past 4 miles really wasn't that much, making you question if you really did hike uphill that whole time.

Keep following the trail until you see the sign on your right that says Lobo Canyon.  What happens next feels like a magical experience with different color combinations exploding all around you, especially if you get to see the dew drops settled on the trees, plants, and spider webs from the morning fog.

There are 14 plants federally threatened and endangered (read: rare) found in the Channel Islands.  I'm pretty sure you get to see them all inside Lobo Canyon.

While you're hiking this section you'll be ducking under weeping willow-type trees, walking along narrow planks in marshland-type areas bordered by short and long reeds, and grasslands all while being encased in a canyon.  

Near the end of the hike, there is a side trail option on your right.  You can't miss it, and you shouldn't.  It's not even a quarter mile in length, so you get more for very little effort.  It leads to an altar-like, enclosed canyon full of voodoo doll looking tubular plants with some kind of long hair hanging off their limbs, giving you the vibe that this is where human sacrifices used to take place...or still do...

Once you're done with that, you'll continue onward for about 5 more minutes until you walk over a hill and see your beach/cove destination.  There are a few places you can explore in the area.  I decided instead to eat a snack and take a nap on the volcanic rocks that sit just above the white sands, to the sounds of waves crashing, before heading back.

If the fog hasn't burned off before you reach the beach I would recommend planning to spend some time there for the day or time it so you reach the end around 1 or 2 pm.  When the sun is out the water takes on that bright blue hue.  That's something I didn't get to experience on the hike, but I saw plenty of it from the high ground on the hike back.  Just remember that the return trip will leave you completely exposed to the sun on a boring, flat, dirt road, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Good luck and enjoy! 

NPS.Gov Park Map

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