Posted by: James Wapotich | December 9, 2011

Trail Quest: Ranger Peak

If you’re looking for a trail that few people seem to know about and offers incredible views of the Santa Ynez Valley than the hike to Ranger Peak may be the answer. Ranger Peak is part of the San Rafael Mountains in the Los Padres National Forest along with neighboring Figueroa Peak and Cachuma Mountain. The peak itself can be reached from Figueroa Mountain Road for a short hike of less than a mile or from Happy Canyon Road for a longer hike of about 9 miles round trip.

To get to the trailhead for the longer hike take State Route 154 past Cachuma Lake to Armour Ranch Road. Turn right onto Armour Ranch route and follow it to the intersection with Happy Canyon Road, turn right and continue on Happy Canyon Road as it meanders through ranch country and vineyards before climbing out of the valley towards Cachuma Saddle. This, along with Figueroa Mountain Road, is one of the more scenic drives into the backcountry.

Ranger Peak Los Padres National Forest Figueroa Mountain Road Santa Barbara Hike

Near the top of Ranger Peak

Happy Canyon Road is paved except for a short section where it is a dirt road; it is shortly after this first transition that one finds the trailhead. Just before the road arrives at the shooting range that has been established along Happy Canyon Road look for an unmarked turnoff on the left. This side road is gated and so parking is found along the road or near the shooting range, do not block the road. An adventure pass is required to park or camp within the National Forest. This is a long hike, with little shade and no water, so plan accordingly.

From here the hike continues past the gate along the dirt road; a little ways in you’ll want to start looking for what looks like an improvised road or set of tire tracks that climb up the ridge on your right, just before the dirt road rounds the corner. You’ll know you missed it if you started seeing views of the valley open up before you as the route you want heads north along the dividing contour between these two valleys.

Mule Deer Ranger Peak Trail Los Padres National Forest

The unmarked trail continues along this ridge contour and leads behind the nearby shooting range which can be unnerving. One alternate route is as you approach the range is to improvise a parallel route below the ridge as you move past the range.

The trail or double track follows the ridge most of the way and leads through open grassy hills dotted with chaparral plants such as ceanothus, manzanita and scrub oak, mixed with pines. This area is also a cattle allotment within the National Forest and there are various well established cattle trails along the way that can look like hiking trails, but for the most part you’ll want to follow the improvised road or double track.

Ranger Peak Trail Los Padres National Forest

Early on in the hike you may notice a large rock formation in the distance on your left, the trail will eventually pass by this feature and so when confronted various side tracks you’ll want to continue generally towards that landmark. One of the striking features of this hike is just how much open space there is in contrast to other trails that often lead through dense chaparral.

At about the 2 mile mark a barb wire fence crosses the trail, shortly after this the trail branches with the trail to the right heading down towards a cattle trough and the trail to the left climbing back towards the ridgeline. It’s through here the trail becomes less distinct but does lead back over to and follow the ridgeline and often resuming its familiar double track appearance.

At about the 2.5 mile mark the trail passes that large rock formation and shortly afterwards crests a small rise at which point Ranger Peak becomes visible in the distance. A short side trip to the formation offers some nice views of the valley below. The trail from this point on follows the contour of the ridgeline all the way to Ranger Peak and seems to alternate between cattle trail, fuel break and double track but is open and followable, as well as steep in places. In fact the hardest part of the hike for me was seeing cattle tracks and imaging the cattle hiking up these steep sections without a complaint.

Bobcat Ranger Peak Los Padres National Forest

Bobcat hunting and relaxing near Ranger Peak

At about the 4.25 mile mark the trail enters a small valley right at the base of Ranger Peak and continues towards a small saddle. From this saddle the trail continues just a little ways further to Figueroa Mountain Road. Or if you’ve come this far and are ready for a little more uphill hiking you can find a route on your right that follows the ridge contour through the oak and pines to the summit of Ranger Peak.

One also can reached Ranger Peak from Figueroa Mountain Road, by parking in the large pullout found along the road and hiking in a short way to the small saddle just described. From Los Olivos the pullout for the trailhead is about 2 miles past Figueroa Campground and about a half mile before the turnoff for East Pinery Road.

Ranger Peak Trail Los Padres National Forest Figueroa Mountain Road

At the summit of Ranger Peak one is rewarded with nearly 360 degree views that include the Santa Ynez Valley and Cachuma Lake to the south and just the tops of the Channel Islands visible as if they were part of another range of mountains beyond the Santa Ynez Mountains. To the west one can see Figueroa Mountain and to the north are incredible views of Hurricane Deck in the San Rafael Wilderness and the Sierra Madre Mountains.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 9th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. Hi James. Are your articles posted anywhere on the SB Newspress website or are they exclusively in the printed edition?

  2. […] can each be visited in a day and include Zaca Peak (4341′), Figueroa Mountain (4528′), Ranger Peak (4633′) and Cachuma Mountain (4696′). This week’s article features these four […]

  3. […] highlight for the year, however was my bobcat encounter at Ranger Peak. While hiking up from Happy Canyon Road, I had just crested the small saddle near Ranger Peak […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: