Posted by: James Wapotich | April 1, 2011

Trail Quest: Gaviota State Park

When one thinks of Gaviota State Park it usually brings to mind images of the beach, but there are a surprising number of hiking trails to be found within park. The park itself stretches from the beach, north to Highway 1 and covers more 2,000 acres of oak woodland and chaparral. One of these trails is called the Beach to Backcountry Trail and leads from the coast to an overlook vista along the ridge. The hike to the overlook and back is about 4 miles and provides one an opportunity to see this unique part of the Santa Ynez Mountains. This trail is also overgrown and brushy much of the way, so set your expectations accordingly.

"Gaviota State Park" "Beach to Backcountry Trail" "Santa Barbara" hike "Santa Ynez Mountains"

View Toward Overlook Point

From here the trail follows a paved access road north for the first half-mile, at which point it leaves the road and climbs a hill on its way to the ridge. The hill is easy to spot as it’s covered in vibrant yellow this time of year by wild mustard. Wild mustard is a non-native plant closely related to commercial mustard and the seedpods, leaves and even flowers are all edible. The trail is found on the western side of the road and is not marked. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far as the road ends shortly after this trail juncture. And although the trail is overgrown with wild mustard it is easy to find.

"Gaviota State Park" "Santa Ynez Mountains" "Wild Mustard" "Santa Barbara" "Beach to Backcountry Trail" hike

Wild Mustard along the trail

At the top this first ridge the plants transition to chaparral. The trail continues west along the ridgeline past a series of remarkable wind blown caves carved in the sandstone. This part of the trail is also completely overgrown as much of the area was burned in the 2004 Gaviota Fire. From the top of this first ridgeline the trail continues along the backside of a connecting rise before continuing its ascent to the main ridge where the overlook is found. There is no water along the trail and the area at times can be windy.

At about the 1.5 mile mark the trail crests the main ridge and continues down the backside a short ways before reaching what’s called the Overlook Fire Road. The Gaviota Fire did not affect this area and so both absence of brush and the width of the trail make for much easier hiking the rest of the way. From this intersection head east on the road another half-mile to the overlook where there’s a small radio tower. The overlook offers some unique views of Gaviota Tunnel along Highway 101 and out towards the Channel Islands.

"Santa Ynez Mountains" "Gaviota State Park" "Santa Barbara" "Overlook FIre Road"

View north from the Overlook Fire Road

If you’re looking to extend your hike, the Overlook Fire Road is part of a large loop trail that continues north to Las Cruces with several connector trails cutting across it. A complete map of the trails can be found at

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see a unique corner of the Santa Ynez Mountains and with Gaviota beach nearby you can even top of your hike with a swim in the ocean.

This article originally appeared in section A of the April 1st, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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