Posted by: James Wapotich | December 31, 2010

Trail Quest: Forbush Flats

The trail to Forbush is one those rare finds, not too many hikers, and even though it’s just 30 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara it has a decidedly backcountry feel. Suitable for day hikes and backpacking, the trail is about 3.5 miles round trip and being on the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains has a good mix of chaparral plants and wildlife.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Camino Cielo Forbush Flats Cold Springs Trail

North Cold Springs Trail

To get to the trailhead, find your way to Gibraltar Road in the Santa Barbara foothills behind the Santa Barbara Mission. Take Gibraltar Road all the way to East Camino Cielo, turn right and continue on East Camino Cielo. In fact this part of the trip is half the fun, as there are a number of places where you can pull off the road and on one side gaze at the expansiveness of the Los Padres National Forest and on the other side at the beauty of our coastal setting and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. 

You’ll know that you’ve reached the trailhead as it’s the first turn off you’ll see on the right hand side that has room for a number of cars and a large cement water tower on the hill. This is also where the Cold Springs Trail from Montecito meets Camino Cielo.

LosPadres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Forbush Flats Cold Springs Trail Santa Ynez Mountains

Gidney Creek Waterfall

The hike in is easy as it’s downhill all the way, so be sure to pace yourself for the hike out. The trail is overgrown in places but is easy to follow and offers some nice views of Blue Canyon and the large meadow where Cottam Camp is located. 

Forbush Flats is named after Frederick Washington Forbush, who was a homesteader who built a cabin there in 1910 and planted olive, apple and pear trees. Of which the olive and pear trees still remain. In the early spring the pear trees are often lit up with pear blossoms and in the late summer they are loaded with ripening pears. Both are quite a sight in the backcountry.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Forbush Flats Santa Ynez Mountains Cold Springs Trail

Pears Ripening in Frederick Forbush’s Orchard

And although the cabin is long since gone, there are two trail camps at Forbush, each of which has a table and a grated stove. The first site is under a large oak tree near where the cabin once was and the second camp, just past the fruit trees, is near several large pines. Both sites are along the small creek, which with recent rains has water.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Forbush Flats Santa Ynez Mountains Cold Springs Trail

Two trail camps with picnic tables are situated under the trees along the top of the meadow

All in all Forbush makes for a memorable day hike or even an overnight camping trip under the stars without having to drive a long ways from Santa Barbara. 

This article originally appeared in section A of the Friday, December 31st, 2010 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press

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