Posted by: James Wapotich | December 24, 2010

Trail Quest: Little Pine Mountain

The Fall is probably one of the nicer times of year to visit Little Pine as the temperature for the hike is mild and with the wild grasses having turned gold it makes for some great scenery. Little Pine Mountain is not for the faint of heart, it is about 12 miles roundtrip, 4 of which are uphill, but the views are spectacular and are well worth the effort.

Los Padres National Forest Little Pine Mountain Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Nineteen 19 Oaks Upper Oso Santa Cruz Trail

Little Pine Mountain

You’ll want to start early in the morning to allow yourself the whole day for this hike. Make sure to bring plenty of water and something to eat. To get to the trailhead take State Route 154 to Paradise Road and continue to the kiosk at the first crossing. You will need an adventure pass, which you can buy at the kiosk. Continue on Paradise Road as it crosses the Santa Ynez River and then turn left, head towards Upper Oso campground and park just past Upper Oso at the locked gate where the paved road ends.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Cruz Trail Little Pine Mountain Upper Oso Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike

The trail follows the Buckhorn Camuesa Road, which often has motorcycle and OHV (off highway vehicle) traffic and then at the .75 mile mark leaves the road and becomes the Santa Cruz Trail. Another mile later one arrives at the turn off for Nineteen Oaks, it’s here that the trail begins its climb out of the Oso Valley towards Little Pine Mountain. 

The first part of the climb takes you through purple sage and a remarkable serpentine wash. And although the trail gains about 2250 feet, it’s drawn out over 3.5 miles so it doesn’t seem too bad and with exponentially better views around each corner spurring you on, one seems to arrive at Alexander Saddle in almost no time. Never the less it is still a good workout.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Little Pine Mountain Hike Happy Hollow Little Pine Spring Santa Cruz Trail

Alexander Saddle

At Alexander Saddle the trail branches with one trail continuing uphill towards Little Pine and Happy Hollow and the other continuing down the backside towards Little Pine Spring, Santa Cruz Station and off into the San Rafael Wilderness.

Los Padres National Forest Little Pine Mountain Santa Cruz Trail Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike

The last .75 miles from the saddle to Little Pine Mountain follows the ridgeline, with one last trail branch that’s easy to miss just before Little Pine. The more obvious trail to the right arrives at Happy Hollow and the less used trail to the left takes you directly to Little Pine. The trail does make a little loop, but is easier to follow from Little Pine. 

At Little Pine Mountain one is rewarded with views of Lake Cachuma, the Santa Ynez Mountains and most of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, as well as the San Rafael Mountains behind you.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the Friday, 12/24/10 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press

Addenda: Hiked this trail twice leading up the article [Nov. 13-14 and Nov. 27]. This first time was a solo backpack trip to Little Pine Spring, which is about 1.25 miles past Alexander Saddle towards Santa Cruz Station. Got a late start but made it to camp before sunset. The trail down the backside is a little more overgrown than that coming up to Alexander Saddle. And the trail down to Little Pine Spring is decidedly brushy, threading its way through dry wild mustard and the brush until one arrives at Little Pine Spring. The camp itself is an oasis with the spring the only source of water for several miles. And although it’s a small campsite it has a nice feel. There’s one table and a fire ring of sorts with a place for a tent under an oak tree near the spring. I was surprised that not only did my cell phone (Verizon) work from Alexander Saddle and Little Pine Mountain, but I also had reception at Little Pine Spring. During the night I was visited by a fox, who I could hear getting water from the spring and left his calling card next to my tent.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Little Pine Spring Little Pine Mountain Santa Cruz Trail

Little Pine Spring

The second trip was to retake some photos because my camera was giving me a hard time. On both trips I was surprised by how few people there were out on the trail.

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