Posted by: James Wapotich | October 3, 2011

Trail Quest: Fremont Trail

If you’re looking for a trail with some great views of the Santa Ynez Valley that few people visit then the Fremont Trail may be the answer. Located along Camino Cielo, the Fremont Trail runs from the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains down to Fremont Campground along Paradise Road. To hike the length of the trail is about 7 miles round trip.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara take State Route 154 to the top of San Marcos Pass turn right onto East Camino Cielo and continue for about 2 miles and look for a dirt road on your left with a metal gate. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far if you come to the turn off for Painted Cave Road. Parking is found along the road. To start this hike from the bottom instead, continue on State Route 154 and turn onto Paradise Road and continue to Fremont Campground, which is the first campground along Paradise Road. Parking is available in the overflow parking across from the campground, you will need an adventure pass to park there.

Pines Fremont Trail Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Santa Ynez Mountains Camino Cielo

Pines seen from the Fremont Trail

From Camino Cielo continue downhill along the dirt road past. This first part of the trail is shaded by oaks and then opens up into brushy chaparral with manzanita, chamise and bush poppies and in the distance a hillside covered with pines. As the trail continues the views of the surrounding area become increasingly panoramic with first views of Little Pine Mountain across the Santa Ynez Valley and Knapp’s Castle along the neighboring ridge to the east. And then as the trail continues its descent one can literally see down the Santa Ynez Valley towards Lake Cachuma. And if that view alone wasn’t enough, on your left are clear views of the Cold Springs Arch Bridge and State Route 154.

Through this section the chaparral is dotted with large wind sculpted sandstone boulders. It is this same sandstone that has caused the road to be mostly fine sand which in turn makes it easy to find and follow animal tracks. Depending who’s been there you may find tracks from quail, deer, coyote, bear and even snakes. For me, animal tracks are the next best thing to seeing wildlife as they give a sense of how much animal activity there is in a particular area and what they may have been doing.

At the 1.5-mile mark the trail arrives at a power line tower. Here the old Fremont Ridge Trail continues down along the ridge to the left. If you look closely you can make out the course of the overgrown trail from the road. The trail however has been rerouted as the old trail leads through private property. This juncture can also make for a good return point for a shorter hike, about 3 miles round trip.

Fremont Trail Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Santa Ynez Mountains

View towards Little Pine and the San Rafael Mountains

From here the trail continues along the dirt road down towards the Santa Ynez River and Fremont Campground. The road continues around the corner to the right and transitions back into shady oaks mixed with chaparral and starts to feel more remote. Make sure to pace yourself as the hike out will be all uphill.

At about the 2-mile mark the road branches, with a homemade sign pointing the way to Fremont Campground, stay to the left, and continue along a less used dirt road, please respect private property. This less used dirt road continues the descent towards the Santa Ynez River. About a half mile later the trail starts to transition. The oaks trees become less dense and the ground is covered with wild grasses. It’s also here that the road begins to fade, often appearing as nothing more than two tire tracks. This section can be a little confusing as there are several side tracks with tire marks heading in different directions. To avoid getting lost, know that the trail itself gently slopes downhill and towards the left until it reaches the edge of this open grassy area dotted with oaks and descends down into the canyon also on your left. At the far edge of this grassy area the road dies out completely and the trail continues as a footpath down into the canyon. If you’re coming up from Paradise Road through the canyon this transition is more obvious.

Santa Ynez River Fremont Trail Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike

View towards the Santa Ynez River

From here the trail continues down through the canyon, following the dry creek bed until it crosses the creek and begins to follow the low ridge that defines the southern edge of the canyon. The trail along the ridge is somewhat overgrown threading through mostly ceanothus but is still followable and where it does open up offers some unique views of the surrounding hills and mountains that one would see driving along Paradise Road.

The trail then passes by two water tanks and arrives at the bottom of its descent. From here continue left or west towards Fremont Campground for about the last half mile. The trail through here is mostly level moving through wild grasses and oak and then transitioning into denser chaparral with oak, toyon and other plants mixed in as it follows the river valley. Through this last section you may even encounter wild turkey or deer. The trail then arrives at Fremont Campground and Paradise Road.

Santa Ynez River Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Backcountry Hike Fremont Trail

View towards Lower Oso

Regardless of how far you hike you will get to see some unique views of the Santa Ynez Valley.

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

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