Posted by: James Wapotich | December 5, 2011

Trail Quest: Parma Park

If you’re looking for a place to hike that’s close to town, but is still relatively undiscovered then Parma Park may be the answer. Located in the foothills behind Santa Barbara, Parma Park is the largest open space within city limits after Rattlesnake Canyon Park. The park includes a network of trails which makes it easy to create a couple different loops hikes or connect them into one long hike. A loop hike east from the main entrance is about 3 miles and an extended loop hike west from the main entrance is about 2.5 miles.

To get to the trailhead from downtown Santa Barbara, continue past the Santa Barbara Mission and turn right on to Mountain Drive and follow it until it meets Mission Ridge Road. This is also the intersection where you’ll find the old Sheffield Reservoir which has been converted into a park, also worth a visit. From this intersection continue to the right along Mission Ridge Road and soon after turn left onto Stanwood Drive and follow it to the main signed entrance for the park. One can also reach Parma Park by way of Sycamore Canyon Road, however with the road currently closed for repairs you will need to follow the detour along Barker Pass Road.

Parma Park East West Santa Barbara Hike Santa Ynez Mountains

There are several different entrances to the park, but the main entrance is a gated access road found along Stanwood Drive; parking is found along the road. From the gate follow the access road which quickly arrives at a set of picnic tables and a drinking fountain, here you will also find an interpretive sign for the park that includes a map of the entire park as well as all the trails. The park covers roughly 200 acres of oak woodland and chaparral along Sycamore and Coyote Creeks. From here the access road continues north through the park and is the only trail open to bikes; all the trails are open to hikers and equestrian use and are in good condition and well marked.

From the picnic tables one can start several different loops hikes through the park. To hike the loop that leads east through the park look for the trail that starts right behind the sign and continues east following the contour of the hills. Regrowth from the Tea Fire is evident through much of the park as the fire swept through here in 2008.

This first part of the trail feels surprisingly remote and is dominated in places by Salt Brush which is known as a fire follower and tends to show up strong in the regrowth in places were chaparral has been burned. Another plant along with the oak trees that is making a strong comeback is Green Bark Ceanothus, with its distinctive green bark that’s used by the plant to supplement its chlorophyl production.

Parma Park east west Santa Barbara Hike Santa Ynez Mountains

Main entrance to Parma Park on Stanwood Drive

At about the 1 mile mark the trail branches again with the trail to the right heading down to Stanwood Drive and the trail to the left turning and starting its climb along the eastern end of the park as it starts to follow the main ridge leading north. From here the trail meets the unpaved access road and the two criss cross each other several times along the ridge and offer views of Coyote Canyon and the surrounding area. Both continue up to a picnic table near the top of the park.

At about the 2 mile mark one arrives at the picnic table where one can take in views of Montecito Peak and the Santa Ynez Mountains as well as the coast towards Carpinteria and the Pacific Ocean out towards Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. One can also see the Tea Gardens from here which can provide a powerful context with which to see how much damage was done by the fire and how close to town it was.

From here the access road returns back to the main entrance. Shortly before arriving at the picnic tables the trail branches one last time with the trail to the right heading off into the western part of the park, while the access road continues down to the tables. It’s this trail to the right that one wants to take for the extended west loop hike.

Starting from the picnic tables at the main entrance to the park one can also make a loop hike to the west. There are several trails that criss cross through this section of the park and so part of the fun is exploring these different trails. An extended loop hike can be made by following the access road up to the trail juncture just described and from there heading west. From there the trail passes several more trail junctures, in each instance stay to the right, as the trail ultimately follows Sycamore Creek on its way up to Mountain Drive.

Parma Park east west Santa Barbara Hike Trail

Regrowth from the Tea Fire

From Mountain Drive one can then follow the road back down about a half of mile to the next entrance to the park and pick up one of the trails that then leads back down to the trailhead at the main entrance. The trails through the western part of the park, particularly those along its southern edge offer some great views of the park itself.

Parma Park was created in 1973 when Harold and Jack Parma established a trust for the park and generously donated the land to the city of Santa Barbara. The land was originally owned by their father Giovanni Parma who had purchased it in the late 1800s and used it as an olive orchard and for cattle grazing.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some of our local front country tucked away in this city park as well as have a chance to see the destructive path and subsequent regrowth of the 2008 Tea Fire.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 12th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


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