Posted by: James Wapotich | October 24, 2011

Trail Quest: Romero Canyon

If you’re looking for a front country trail that generally has fewer visitors as well as several options for creating a loop hike then Romero Canyon may be the answer. Romero Canyon is currently the farthest east of the front country trails behind Montecito and Carpinteria and like many of those trails, the Romero Canyon Trail follows one of the canyons along the coast, connecting the foothills with the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains. What makes Romero Canyon unique is that in addition to the trail one can also hike along the old Romero Canyon Road which follows a different path through this same canyon. These two routes cross midway through the canyon forming a sort of figure eight loop. The hike along the full loop is about 11 miles and offers some great views of both the canyon and the coast.

Romero Canyon Creek Trail Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountiains

Pool along Romero Creek

To get to the trailhead, take Highway 101 to the Sheffield Drive exit, turn right on N. Jameson Lane and then left onto Sheffield Drive which dead ends into East Valley Road. Turn left on to East Valley Rd. and follow it for just a short way to Romero Canyon Road on your right. Take Romero Canyon Road as it winds its way and dead ends in to Bella Vista Drive, turn right onto Bella Vista which then quickly crosses Romero Creek and arrives at the trailhead. Parking is found along the road. One can also start at the top along East Camino Cielo Road and hike the whole loop or just the top half.

From the trailhead, continue past the locked gate following the old Romero Canyon Road. The road crosses the creek along a concrete bridge and shortly thereafter branches. The road to left heads up to the power lines and the saddle overlooking neighboring Buena Vista Canyon. Stay to the right, and continue a short way to the next creek crossing. Here the Romero Canyon Trail begins, while the road continues and the two meet up later on forming the lower half of the figure eight.

Romero Canyon Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains Trail

View from the old Romero Canyon Road

The trail follows Romero Creek through mostly riparian plants, is well shaded and has a surprising number of trees for such a narrow creek. The trail like many of our front country trails is well maintained and easy to follow and crosses the creek several times. The water is still cool and clear. About halfway up, the trail moves off the main creek and follows a side creek that is now dry and then at the 2.25 mile mark arrives at the old Romero Canyon Road.

This 4-way intersection represents the first of several loop hike opportunities. From here one can head back down the road for a shorter loop hike of 6.5 miles, or of course just hike back down the along the creek, about 4.5 miles.

From here the Romero Canyon Trail continues another mile towards the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The trail at first seems steeper and more overgrown but then both levels out some and becomes less brushy. It’s also here that the trail starts to feel more remote as still fewer people hike this section.

Historically the Romero Canyon Trail or a similar route was used by the Chumash to travel to and from the backcountry and then later this route was used by homesteaders to access Blue Canyon and the Upper Santa Ynez River. In the 1930s with the construction of Juncal Dam and the creation of Jameson Reservoir there became a need for an access road back to the dam. It was then that the Romero Canyon Road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The road led up to Romero Saddle and then continued, as it does today, down the backside of the mountains to Jameson Lake. It is this same road that now forms part of the trails through Romero Canyon.

Romero Canyon Trail Santa Barbara HIke Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains

View from Romero Saddle towards Carpinteria

Romero Saddle represents a transition point along East Camino Cielo, here East Camino Cielo Road ends and the Romero-Camuesa Road begins. And whereas East Camino Cielo is paved and follows the ridge line along the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Romero-Camuesa Road is unpaved and continues down the backside of the mountains.

At the 3.25 mile mark the Romero Canyon Trail meets the Ocean View Trail, about a half mile east of Romero Saddle and arrive at another 4-way intersection. From here the Romero Canyon Trail continues north along a small creek, crosses the Romero-Camuesa Road and heads down into Blue Canyon. The Ocean View trail runs east west along the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains picking up where East Camino Cielo leaves off and eventually connects with the Divide Peak OHV Route. From this 4-way intersection, turn left, and hike westward along the Ocean View Trail towards Romero Saddle and the cement water tower that is visible from the trail.

Just past the water tower, along East Camino Road, the old Romero Canyon Road starts its journey back down to the trailhead. This part of the hike offers some exceptional views. The road takes a more circuitous route than the trail and as it winds around the first hill on its descent offers some nice views of San Ysidro Canyon, if you look closely you can even see the upper reaches of the San Ysidro Trail. Then as the road continues it offers expansive views of the coast, particularly from the Santa Barbara Harbor to the Carpinteria Salt Marsh. And on a clear day you can see out to the Channel Islands.

Hiking along this stretch of trail I often found myself reflecting on a time when such trails and roads were the only way into the backcountry. Areas that are now easily reachable by car in few hours were in themselves a full day’s journey from town, making the backcountry trails even more remote.

Ocean View Trail Romero Canyon Trail Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains

View from the Ocean View Trail

At the 6.5 mile mark the road arrives back at that first 4-way intersection where it meets the Romero Canyon Trail. These two routes make from a good contrast in that the Romero Canyon Trail, following the creek, leads through mostly riparian plants while the road leads mostly through chaparral. The road itself is open and clear most of the way making for some good mountain biking and from that 4-way intersection continues back down to the first creek crossing where the Romero Canyon Trail starts and then back to the trailhead.

Regardless of how far you go you will get to see some nice scenery and maybe even sense the slower pace at which the world once moved.

This article originally appeared in section A of the October 24th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. […] There are a number of trails that can be accessed from Romero Saddle, along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. There is Romero Trail and Old Romero Road which lead back down towards Summerland, that more people are familiar with, and provide a way to make a loop hike through Romero Canyon. […]

  2. […] nearby hike is Coffin Family Loop. This trail follows the lower portion of Romero Creek and returns along the side of Ortega Ridge and is about 1.5 miles. From Coffin Family Trail one can […]

  3. Hello! Can you tell me if Romero Creek generally flows year-round? I’m looking to do a hike there in mid-October.

    • Hey Katie, most of our main front country creeks flow intermittently, including Romero. There should likely be some water along the trail between where it first leaves the road and meets it a second time. The picture of the pool in the post is about midway, and I seem to recall that area having some water in the fall, as well as a couple places before that. That photo was from 2011 which was a good year for water.

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