Posted by: James Wapotich | July 3, 2011

Trail Quest: Las Positas and Cliff

We are blessed in Santa Barbara by the amount of open space available to us. For example where Las Positas Road meets Cliff Drive there are three different parks that one can visit, Arroyo Burro Beach, Elings Park and the Douglas Family Preserve. Each has its own unique history and scenery, and with a little bit of creative hike making one can visit all three in a single loop hike of about 3.5 miles.

The hike traces a figure eight of sorts and provides an opportunity to see the area from a variety of perspectives. At different times the trail leads through portions of the Arroyo Burro Creek watershed as it meets the ocean as well as going around and through the mesa bluff that defines the Douglas Family Preserve.

Hendry's Beach Arroyo Burro Douglas Family Preserve Wilcox Property Santa Barbara Hike

View toward’s Hendry’s Beach from the Douglas Family Preserve

One can begin this hike from any one of the three parks, but since less people visit what’s referred to as Elings Park South it can make for a nice starting point. The turnoff for Elings Park South is midway along Cliff Drive between Las Positas Road and Mesa Lane and leads to the parking lot up on the bluff overlooking Cliff Drive.

From the parking lot head west as the trail crosses the entrance road and parallels the unpaved access road used by the paragliders. It’s here that you arrive at the first trail intersection. The trail to the left drops down towards Cliff Drive and continues towards Las Positas Road, while the trail to the right continues above following the curvature of the mesa.

Birds Ellings Park South Hendry's Beach Santa Barbara Hike Arroyo Burro

Mockingbird on Coyote Bush, Ellings Park South

From this first intersection continue right, saving the trail to the left for the return route. At the far end of the of the mesa the trail branches again, with the trail to the left descending more directly towards Los Positas and the trail to the right making a slightly larger loop along the hillside before also descending to Los Positas. The trail then continues towards the intersection of Las Positas and Cliff.

Elings Park is a 230 acre privately funded, non-profit park that is open to the public and is the result of a rich history of community involvement. For more information about the park and what it offers go to

Ellings Park South Santa Barbara Hike Arroyo Burro Beach

View from Ellings Park South

At the half mile mark the trail arrives at Las Positas and Cliff. From here cross and continue along Cliff Drive towards Arroyo Burro Beach. Here the trail follows the Arroyo Burro estuary to the Pacific Ocean. And although this portion of the hike leads through the parking area for the beach it is enhanced by all the native plant and habitat restoration work that has been done. There are also several interpretive signs regarding the work, including one that features an old black and white photo of what estuary looked like in the late 1800s.

At Arroyo Burro Beach you’ll also discover that this hike includes rare amenities such as a snack bar, drinking fountain and public restrooms. From the beach turn left and continue east towards Mesa Lane. For this portion of the hike you will want to check the tides as this section is not passable during high tide.

At the about the 1.75 mile mark the trail arrives at the stairs to Mesa Lane. From here continue up the stairs and then along Mesa Lane a short way to to Medcliff Road. Turn left, and follow Medcliff until it dead ends at the Douglas Family Preserve.

Ellings Park Arroyo Burro Beach Douglas Family Preserve Hendry's Wilcox Property Bird

Lesser Goldfinch on Poison Hemlock

The Douglas Family Preserve is essentially a large mesa with a network of trails traversing it. The trail down to Las Positas and Cliff is located in the northeast corner of the preserve and so one can either make a beeline to the trail or make a large loop along the mesa and enjoy views overlooking the beach and the route taken earlier. To make things easier there is a map of the trials at the park entrance.

The 70 acre preserve is located on the site of the former Wilcox nursery, which was acquired by the Trust For Public Land with the help of local citizens and was then deeded to the City of Santa Barbara in 1997. The preserve was named in recognition of the Douglas Family and their contribution towards making the park a reality.

The preserve includes both native plants as well as non-natives such as Eucalyptus and Monterey Cypress trees and all three parks make for great bird watching.

Arroyo Burro Creek Beach Santa Barbara Hike Douglas Family Preserve

Arroyo Burro Creek

At the northeast corner of the preserve one finds the Oak Grove Trial, this is the old access road to the nursery, which leads back down to Las Positas and Cliff. From the intersection cross Cliff Drive and take the trail back to the top of the mesa in Elings Park South and then back to the parking area to complete the hike.

Regardless of where you start or how far you hike you will get to see some of the rich scenery of our coastal setting and share in the sense of community involvement that makes these parks what they are today.

This article originally appeared in section A of the Sunday, July 3rd, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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