Posted by: James Wapotich | June 6, 2011

Trail Quest: Manzana Narrows

The month of June often marks a turning point in the seasons for Santa Barbara, we move from our wet season into our dry season. In the front country we often start to see fog and in the backcountry the temperatures start to rise. However with the blessing of our spring rains there are still some great hikes to be found in the Santa Barbara backcountry.

One such hike is to Manzana Narrows along Manzana Creek in the San Rafael Wilderness. The hike from the trailhead at Nira to Manzana Narrows is about 14 miles roundtrip and includes some rich scenery and a number of inviting swim holes. And while the hike is probably best done as a part of a backpacking trip there are several trail camps in between that make for good day hike destinations.

Los Padres National Forest Manzana Creek San Rafael Wilderness Santa Barbara Hike

Manzana Creek below Fish Camp

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara take State Route 154 past Cachuma Lake to Armour Ranch Road, just before State Route 246. From Armour Ranch Road turn right on Happy Canyon Road, which climbs out of the valley towards Cachuma Saddle. At Cachuma Saddle it meets Figueroa Mountain Road, and continues north, becoming Sunset Valley Road and ends at Nira Campground.

The entire drive from Santa Barbara to the trailhead is about an hour and 45 minutes and the road is paved except for a small portion. Car camping is available at Nira Campground on a first come first served basis. An adventure pass is required to park or camp within the Los Padres National Forest.

Los Padres National Forest Manzana Narrows San Rafael Wilderness Santa Barbara Hike

Checkerspot and Swallowtail Butterflies on Yerba Santa

From Nira the Manzana Trail heads upstream and immediately crosses the creek. The trail is in great shape and is easy to follow. Here the creek is lined with Alder trees and one finds digger pines along the trail.

At the one-mile mark the trail branches with the Lost Valley Trail on the left climbing away from the creek and heading up towards Hurricane Deck. The Manzana Trail continues upstream and shortly thereafter arrives at Lost Valley Camp, which makes for an easy destination and has two campsites each with a picnic table and fire ring.

As the trail continues the scenery transitions into the burn area from the 2007 Zaca Fire, both the re-growth and damage are noticeable, particularly on the hillsides.

And with the grasses now turning gold, mixed with a variety of wildflowers much of our area is experiencing a symphony of colors. Along the trail you’ll see the yellows of Golden Yarrow, Deer Weed and Bush Poppy and the purples of Yerba Santa and the occasional Purple Sage.

Los Padres National Forest Manzana Creek San Rafael Wilderness Santa Barbara Hike

Pool along Manzana Creek

At the 2.5 mile mark the trail arrives at Fish Camp which makes for a good day hike destination. The camp has one picnic table and a fire ring and is just upstream from where Fish Creek joins Manzana Creek. It is at this confluence that one can find a nice swim hole and generally water throughout the year.

From here the trail climbs above the creek for roughly the next two miles, before returning to the creek and crossing it several times on its way to Manzana Camp.

Los Padres National Forest San Rafael Wilderness Santa Barbara Hike Manzana Creek

Manzana Creek above Manzana Camp

At about the 6-mile mark the trail arrives at Manzana Camp, which has two campsites along the creek and is a popular backpacking destination. The trail then climbs again briefly above the creek and offers some great views of the canyon. The trail then returns to the creek as the canyon becomes narrower and filled with many spectacular pools.

At about the 7-mile mark the trail arrives at Manzana Narrows Camp, which has 4 campsites to choose from, and generally has water year round. From here the trail continues still further into the backcountry.

Regardless of how far you go you’ll get to see some of the rugged beauty of the Santa Barbara backcountry.

This article originally appeared in section A of the June 4th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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