Posted by: James Wapotich | December 17, 2010

Trail Quest: Gibraltar Dam

With Red Rock being a popular destination along the Santa Ynez River, it’s surprising that more people don’t take advantage of this hike. Not only are there two more swim holes, there’s also a lot to discover along this stretch of the Santa Ynez River. From Red Rock there are actually two trails to Gibraltar Dam, the first follows the river and the other is the access road to the dam that one can hike. Since both meet up just below the dam this makes for a natural loop hike, about 5.5 miles roundtrip.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez River Red Rock Santa Barbara Day Hike

Gibraltar Dam

The trailhead is roughly 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. To get there take Highway 154 to Paradise Road and follow it all the way to the end. You will need an adventure pass, which you can get at the kiosk just before the first river crossing. From the parking lot at the Red Rock Trailhead you will find the access road to the dam to the right and the trail to Red Rock to the left.

One approach is to hike the road in and the trail out to mix it up and to get the uphill part out of the way early. From the access road one is afforded some great views of the Santa Ynez River. At the 2-mile mark one begins to see the dam and Gibraltar Reservoir. From here the road descends to the river where it intersects the trail. There is no swimming allowed right below the dam or in the reservoir–and there is ample signage to remind you of this.

Los Padres National Forest Red Rock Santa Barbara Day Hike Santa Ynez River Red Rock Swim Hole Bear Track

Bear Track along the Santa Ynez River

From here one can continue up the road and picnic by the reservoir or use this spot as a return point. The hike back along the river is one of my favorites as mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, deer and even the occasional bear visit this area; one can often find their tracks along the river. And believe it or not you can also find evidence of beavers. If you look closely you will find their dams and what’s left of the trees they’ve cut down.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara day hike Santa Ynez River Red Rock Swim hole Gibraltar dam

Second Pool after Red Rock

About a half a mile below the dam there’s an excellent swim hole that’s hard to miss, and with the recent rains and a warm day, makes for an ideal break from hiking. In all, the trail crosses the river eight times, this time of year all the crossings were dry. The trail at times meanders through oaks trees and grassy flats, as well as a rich variety of plants including cottonwood and sycamore, both of which are now showing their fall colors.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the Friday, 12/17/10, edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press

If you have a trail report, I’d love to hear it.

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