Posted by: James Wapotich | February 4, 2011

Trail Quest: North Tunnel Trail

If you’re looking for an undiscovered trail to explore, the North Tunnel Trail along with the Devil’s Canyon Trail may just be it. This hike, from East Camino Cielo Road down to the base of Gibraltar Dam on the Santa Ynez River, is about 8 miles roundtrip and takes you through a rich variety of scenery.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, find Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind the Santa Barbara Mission. Take Gibraltar Road all the way to East Camino Cielo Road, staying left as Gibraltar merges into East Camino Cielo. Continue west and very soon after look for the first dirt road on your right. This is the access road to Gibraltar Dam and also where the hike begins. You’ll want to park here and continue on foot along the road to the locked gate. Shortly after the gate, be on the look out for the trail turnoff on your left, which is marked with one of those floppy trail signs. The road also goes to the dam but is a much longer hike.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Day Hike Santa Ynez Mountains Devil's Canyon Trail

View towards Devil's Canyon

From here the trail descends towards the Santa Ynez River, it is downhill all the way so make sure to pace yourself for the hike out. The trail has been brushed within the last year and so hiking it has become a lot easier. The first part of the hike is through chaparral-covered hillsides, where this time of year one finds Manzanita and Silk Tassel in bloom.

At the 2-mile mark the trail branches, with the trail to the left continuing west through the foothills towards Matias Portero and Paradise Road, and the trail to the right continuing down towards the Santa Ynez River. It’s also here that the trail changes names and becomes the Devil’s Canyon Trail.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Day Hike Devil's Canyon Trail

Devil's Canyon Creek

From here, the trail descends into Devil’s Canyon moving through grassy hills as it follows a small creek, which then joins the main creek. Here the plants transition from chaparral to riparian and includes trees such as Alder and Oak. It is this last section of the hike that is definitely one of the highlights of the trip as there are numerous small pools to be found along the creek, which with the recent rains looks incredibly healthy.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Ynez River Gibraltar Dam Red Rock Devil's Canyon Trail Day Hike

Gibraltar Dam

At about the 3.5-mile mark the trail joins the access road to Gibraltar Dam that originates at the Red Rock trailhead. From here it’s roughly a half-mile to the dam, less to the river where even in the summer one can find a place to swim.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the Friday, February 4th, 2011, edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press

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


  1. Tried this today. Was impossible to find the turnoff from the road down the hill. We could see parts of the trail below, but never found a place to leave the road. There were some places that looked like you could go through the brush but we didn’t want to start down without know there was a trail there. Very steep.
    It’s possible the trail turnoff is covered up – there are signs of road work after the rains.
    Ended up going about two miles down the road, for very pleasant hike.

    • Hey Larry, sorry you had a hard time out there. I was just there earlier this year in April,, and I did notice that the road had been plowed and that the trail marker sign knocked over/demolished. The trail descends somewhat steeply for the first few feet from the road and so it can be easy to walk by it. What you’ll want to watch for as you’re hiking down the road is the first big turn in the road that provides views out towards Gibraltar Reservoir, and then look for the trail on your left. Below is a photo of the trail as it leaves Angostura Pass Road, it’s the only shot I took, but you can see the beginning of the trail is a little nondescript.

      Tunnel Trail Angostura Road Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara trail hike

      Beginning of North Tunnel Trail as it leaves Angostura Road

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