Posted by: James Wapotich | April 3, 2012

Trail Quest: Lake Los Carneros

If you’re looking for a place to hike that’s close to town, has some nice scenery and is loaded with history than Lake Los Carneros may be the answer. Located in Goleta, this 140 acre park was once part of the original Rancho La Patera and includes a small man made lake, which attracts a rich variety of birdlife. The hike around the lake is less than a mile, mostly level and makes for an easy hike for all ages.

Lake Los Carneros Goleta Hike

Lake Los Carneros

From the parking lot one of the first sights one sees is the South Coast Railroad Museum, the museum is open from 1:00 – 4:00PM Wednesday through Sunday and even features train rides for the kids. One of the main highlights of the Museum is that this is also where the original Goleta Train Depot is now located.

The depot was built in 1901 and remained in use until the elimination of passenger service to Goleta reduced the need for the station and the depot was closed in 1973. Several local groups worked to preserve the station and in 1981 the depot was literally cut in half and moved from its original location on South La Patera Lane to where it is now. A self guided tour and history of the depot can found at the South Coast Railroad Museum’s website,

Goleta Train Depot Lake Los Carneros

Historical Goleta Train Depot

Just past the Museum is the historic Stow House, which is definitely a sight worth seeing. The Carpenter-Gothic style house lends itself well to the feeling of visiting a time where the world moved at a slower pace. The house is part of the original Rancho La Patera created in 1872 by Sherman Stow and his wife Ida Hollister Stow. The ranch covered roughly 1,000 acres and was used for farming and raising cattle. One of the features of the property was the duckpond or La Patera that gave the ranch its name. The pond was part of the network of pools and wetlands that drained into the historically much larger Goleta slough, and was likely visited by the Chumash up until the end of the mission period as there were several villages in the Goleta area even when the Spanish arrived.

The pond was enlarged by Mr. Stow with the construction of an earthen dam and the water was used for irrigation for the ranch’s gardens and orchards. The orchards included almond and walnut trees, but Rancho La Patera is probably best known for being the first commercial lemon orchard in California. Tours of the house are available through the Goleta Valley Historical Society on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 – 4:00PM, for more information visit

Stow House Lake Los Carneros Goleta

Stow House

For the hike around Lake Los Carneros continue past Stow House, and follow the old olive tree lined driveway, which leads toward the lake and connects with a paved footpath. The paved footpath continues south and then leads across the top of the earthen dam.

Lake Los Carneros is one of the more pleasant walks one can find. The trail is mostly level and because the lake attracts a variety of birds there is plenty of wildlife to be seen. The lake is both a stopover for migrating birds as well as a permanent home for many local birds. The surrounding open space is a mix of grassland and chaparral which also adds to the diversity of birds one can see.

The lake is framed in the background by the Santa Ynez Mountains, and with the variety of native plants, birdlife and even the occasional bobcat and coyote sighting it’s easy to forget that you’re visiting a city park. There are also numerous side trails for additional exploring or to extend your hike.

Lake Los Carneros Goleta

Tule Reeds or bulrushes can be seen lining the lake

Halfway around the lake the paved footpath heads east away from the lake and connects with La Patera Lane. Lake Los Carneros Park is essentially defined by Los Carneros Road, Covington Way, La Patera Lane and Calle Real and so one can also park along Covington Way and La Patera Lane and access the park from there as well.

At this intersection continue north following the unpaved path that continues around the lake and connects with the foot bridge that crosses the upper portion of the lake. The lake is almost completely surround by tule reeds or bulrushes which were used extensively by the Chumash to build their houses and from the bridge one can easily see these plants. The trail then arrives just behind Stow House.

Lake Los Carneros Goleta

Visitors enjoying Lake Los Carneros

In the 1960s portions of the ranch were donated to the county including Stow House and the nearby Stow Grove with its mini forest of redwoods. In 1975 the the area around Lake Los Carneros was purchased, and for a while there were plans to make it into a more developed park. Fortunately it was decided to let the park continue as the open space it is today.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to enjoy some of the natural scenery and take in some of the history of Goleta.

This article originally appeared in the March 30th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. […] around Lake Los Carneros last weekend with Roger Millikan, the author of “The Birds of Lake Los Carneros”. Roger […]

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