Posted by: James Wapotich | January 20, 2012

Trail Quest: Baron Ranch

If you’re looking to explore one of the Santa Barbara area’s newest trails than the hike through Baron Ranch may be the answer. Located between Refugio State Beach and Gaviota State Park along the coast, the trail leads inland through Arroyo Quemado and into the Santa Ynez Mountains and is about 7 miles round trip.

To get to the trail head from Santa Barbara take Highway 101 north, and look for the first turnoff on your right after Refugio State Beach, and then from there turn left onto the frontage road, which in this case is Calle Real. You’ll know if you missed the turnoff as the next turnoff available is for the Tajiguas Landfill. Follow the frontage road until it dead ends at the gate for Baron Ranch, parking is found along the road.

Baron Ranch Santa Ynez Mountains Hike Santa Barbara Coast Trail

Looking down Arroyo Quemado from the Baron Ranch Trail

At the gate there is a sign outlining the rules of the property along with a map of the trail. Currently the trail is open only to hikers and no dogs are allowed. The trail is open Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 8:00AM to sunset.

Baron Ranch was purchased by the county of Santa Barbara in 1991 as a buffer between the Tajiguas landfill to the west and the neighboring properties to the east. Through the work of the Santa Barbara County Resource and Recovery and Waste Management Division and the Santa Barbara County Parks along with generous support from the Goleta Valley Land Trust and the assistance of the Santa Barbara Trails Council and other local trails advocacy and volunteer groups the trail through the property became open to the public in December 2010.

From the gate the trail follows the main road to the ranch, which continues west along the coast, before turning inland and heading up into Arroyo Quemado. The road and the trail then continue through a working agricultural operation. Please respect private property at all times so that this easement will be preserved. The trail is well marked and follows the network of ranch roads leading through the agricultural section and into the backcountry.

Bear Sign Baron Ranch Santa Barbara Hike Trail

Bear Sign on Sycamore Tree

The trail does not seem to see many visitors and I was struck by how quiet it was on the trail once it moved inland, making it a perfect place to take in the natural surroundings. The lower portion of the creek still has water running in it from last year’s rain and there are plenty of hawks and other birds that one can see from the trail.

At about the one mile mark the road transitions into riparian and chaparral plants and continues to follow the creek, it’s here that trail starts to take on more of the characteristics of a front country hike. Early on in the hike I found myself wondering how much wildlife such as bears and mountain loins there might be in this section of the Santa Ynez Mountains and how far down into the ranch they would venture. And sure enough once the trail starts to clear the agricultural areas one can find evidence of mountain lion, bobcat, coyote and bear. Probably the most prominent indicator is a large sycamore tree that has become a favorite sign post for the bears as it is loaded with their scratch marks.

Baron Ranch Trail Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest

A view of the Santa Ynez Mountains from the Baron Ranch Trail

At about the 2.5 mile mark the trail branches forming a loop up into the mountains. Continuing to the right the trail starts to climb away from the creek. This upper portion of the trail continues along the dirt road and provides some exceptional views back down the canyon and out towards the ocean. This time of year the plants in bloom that stand out along the trail are ceanothus and bay laurel with their respective white and yellow flowers.

The trail then transitions onto what looks like an older ranch road and becomes a single track path through the chaparral. The trail is slightly overgrown in places but is still easy to follow. At the top of the loop the trail connects up with another ranch road and then returns down the other side of the canyon and back to the beginning of the loop.

Coast LIve Oak Baron Ranch Trail Santa Barbara Hike Coast

With the trail now open there is also a proposal to create a connector trail from the upper loop of the Baron Ranch Trail to West Camino Cielo, about 2.5 miles. If successful this West Ridge Trail would provide additional hiking opportunities by allowing hikers to connect over to the trail system found at Gaviota State Park. This extension of the Baron Ranch Trail would also create an access route running from the coast to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to explore a newly accessible part of our local front country.

This article originally appeared in section A of January 20th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. […] the Trails Council is working on is the Baron Ranch Ridge Trail, which would connect the existing Baron Ranch Trail with Camino Cielo Trail that runs along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The lower trail was […]

  2. […] Ranch Ridge Trail will connect the existing Baron Ranch Trail with Camino Cielo Trail, which runs along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and would allow […]

  3. […] their designation of Tajiguas Beach as a County supported clean-up project and the creation of the Baron Ranch Trail. However, this support is not enough to insure future beach […]

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