Posted by: James Wapotich | November 27, 2011

Trail Quest: Snyder Trail

If you’re looking for a trail that is both rich with history and filled with views of the Santa Ynez Valley then the Snyder Trail may be the answer. The Snyder Trail is one of several trails that connects Paradise Road along the Santa Ynez River with East Camino Cielo Road along the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The Snyder Trail however has the unique distinction that from the trail you can visit the ruins of George Owen Knapp’s mountain lodge, affectionately known as Knapp’s Castle. The hike to Knapp’s Castle and back is about 6 miles.

Knapp's Castle Los Padres National Forest Camino Cielo Santa Barbara Hike Santa Ynez Mountains Snyder Trail

Knapp's Castle

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 over San Marcos pass and turn right onto Paradise Road. Continue on Paradise Road to just past Los Prietos Campground and look for the turnoff for the Snyder Trail which is also on your right. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far if arrive at the kiosk for the First Crossing at the Santa Ynez River. Parking is found at the turnoff; an adventure pass is required to park.

From the trailhead follow the dirt road south. Almost immediately you’ll see a Forest Service sign suggesting that it is 4 miles to Camino Cielo Road. From here continue along the road to the left. The sign actually marks a trail intersection as at one time there used to be a trail to the right that connected back to Los Prietos Campground. There are still remnants of the trail and with some luck one can follow the trail to the campground about a half mile away.

The dirt road continues to just past two water tanks at about the half-mile mark at which point the road becomes more of a trail and starts to climb out of the valley. It is here that one starts to enjoy some great views of Sage Hill across the river valley and Little Pine Mountain in the distance. The trail is popular with mountain bikers so you’ll want to keep alert. The mountain bikers have also unfortunately created a number of trail cuts that can be confusing, generally the Snyder Trail takes a more leisurely course following the switchbacks up the mountain through this first section. The trail is shaded in places but is uphill all the way so bring water and plan accordingly.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez River Mountains First Crossing Synder Trail Knapp's Castle

View towards the Santa Ynez River and First Crossing from the Snyder Trail

At about the 2 mile mark the trail arrives at the powerlines and transitions into more of a road as it continues its climb towards Camino Cielo. Shortly after this point the trail moves through an impressive grove of Bay Laurel trees. Other standout plants amongst the chaparral this time of year is Toyon with its distinctive reddish orange berries that typically reach their fullness in December and were used by the Chumash as a food source.

At the 3 mile mark the trail arrives at the turnoff for Knapp’s Castle. From here turn left to continue to the ruins; the Snyder Trail continues to the right to East Camino Cielo Road and both the ruins and the road are less than a quarter mile away from this point. The site is open to the public but is on private property, please be respectful.

The first homestead built on this site was in the early 1900s when Thomas Lewis built his home there. The land was then sold to George Owen Knapp who razed the building and in 1916 set about building his mountain lodge. Mr. Knapp was the president and later chairman of the Union Carbide and Carbon Company and in his travels visited Santa Barbara and eventually settled here. The lodge was completed in 1920 and included an observatory, servants quarters and a workman’s cottage. It’s interesting also to consider that there was no well established road at that time along East Camino Cielo.

Los Padres National Forest Knapp's Castle Snyder Trail Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike

Fireplace from Mr. Knapp's Mountain Lodge

Water for the lodge came from nearby Lewis Canyon where Mr. Knapp is said to have installed a pumphouse at the base of Wellhouse Falls which then carried water to a small reservoir located uphill from the lodge. It’s also been said that Mr. Knapp even installed lights on the falls and piped in organ music to entertain guests there at night. At one time there was a trail over to the falls just below where the powerlines are now, but the trail was washed out in the 1980s and has since become completely overgrown.

In 1940 the lodge was sold to Frances Holden who lived there with her friend and famous German opera star Lotte Lehman who fell in love with the site. The two enjoyed the site and its rustic charms for all of 5 weeks, until it was destroyed in the Paradise Canyon Fire. The fire burned all of the buildings except for the observatory which was later destroyed in the 1955 Refugio Fire. And so now all that remains of the lodge are its sandstone fireplaces, archway portals and foundation.

From the ruins at Knapp’s Castle one can still take in the expansive views of the Santa Ynez valley and perhaps because of the ruins feel an even greater sense of the timelessness of the surrounding wilderness. Here you can gaze out across the valley towards Little Pine Mountain, Aliso Canyon and west towards Cachuma Lake. Knapp’s Castle can also be reached from East Camino Cielo Road for a much shorter hike.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez River Mountains Santa Barbara Day Hike Knapp's Castle Snyder Trail

View towards the Santa Ynez Valley and Cachuma Lake

The Snyder Trail takes its name from Homer Snyder who was the original owner of relatively nearby Laurel Springs, first homesteading there and then in 1905 built Laurel Springs Inn. After his passing his wife sold the property to Mr. Knapp.

Regardless of how far you go you will get to see some of the rich beauty of our local backcountry that has captivated so many people over the years.

This article originally appeared in section A of the November 25th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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