Posted by: James Wapotich | April 22, 2012

Trail Quest: Seeking The Waters

If you’re wanting to visit our local waterfalls, now may be the best time as recent rains have helped enlivened our creeks and watersheds in what is looking to be a dry year. And with so many of the creeks currently flowing in the local Santa Ynez Mountains there are number of great waterfalls to choose from.

The easiest to get to in terms of hiking is Nojoqui Falls, less than three-quarters of a mile round trip along a well established trail. From the trailhead, the trail follows Nojoqui Creek and makes for a pleasant walk through the Laurel, Sycamore, Oak and Maple trees that line the canyon. The trail then crosses the creek by footbridge before arriving at the base of the falls.

Nojoqui Falls Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike Waterfall

Nojoqui Falls

The falls are an impressive 164 feet high, laced with maidenhair ferns, and appear as though they are growing out of the mountain. At one time all of the land that is now the Santa Ynez Mountains was underwater. The rocks and sediments that make up the mountains were formed as deposits on the ocean floor and then later uplifted. And some of the minerals in the rocks upstream from the falls now dissolve in the water and are deposited on the falls as the water evaporates forming what is called travertine, similar to how stalactites are formed gradually in caves, causing the waterfall to literally grow from the cliff.

Nojoqui Creek flows more of less year round, but the falls can often appear as no more than a trickle and so the best time to see Nojoqui Falls is shortly after a rain. Nojoqui Falls, pronounced naw-ho-wee, takes its name from the Chumash village of Naxuwi which was located nearby, along Nojoqui Creek, probably in the flat open area before the park as the word naxuwi translates as meadow.

Nojoqui Falls Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike Waterfall

Full View of Nojoqui Falls

To get to Nojoqui Falls County Park from Santa Barbara take Highway 101north and turn east onto Old Coast Highway, the turn is just after Gaviota Pass. Continue along Old Coast Highway and turn left onto Alisal Road and look for the park entrance on your right. Parking is free and the park is open from 8:00 AM to sunset.

The next easiest waterfall to get to in terms of hiking is San Ysidro Falls; the hike is roughly 4 miles round trip along the San Ysidro Trail. The trail follows San Ysidro Creek, first through a residential area, where it meets the Old Pueblo Trail and then continues upstream along a dirt road. At about the one mile mark the trail branches with the Edison access road heading to the left and immediately crossing San Ysidro Creek, while the San Ysidro Trail continue upstream to the right. Along the way there are a number of other smaller cascades and pools that one can find and enjoy.

San Ysidro Falls Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest Waterfall

San Ysidro Falls

At about the 2-mile mark the trail branches again with a very short trail to the left leading to the falls and the trail to the right climbing out of the canyon and off towards Camino Cielo. San Ysidro Creek generally flows year round, but the falls, which are roughly 60 feet high, can be reduced to a trickle in the dry season.

To get to the trail head for San Ysidro Falls find your way to East Valley Road and Park Lane and from Park Lane turn left on to East Mountain Drive, this little section of East Mountain Drive is not connected with the rest of Mountain Drive nor can it be reached from San Ysidro Lane as one might think. Parking is found along the side the road.

Although there is no single spectacular waterfall to be found at Seven Falls, the creek probably has more little cascades and pools per mile than any other front country creek. The hike to Seven Falls is roughly 3 miles round trip and does involve some scrambling over rocks.

Seven Falls Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike Waterfall Los Padres National Forest

Lower Pools and Cascades at Seven Falls

The trail to Seven Falls starts at the end of Tunnel Road and follows a gated access road. At the one mile mark the trail branches with the Tunnel Trail on the right climbing off towards Camino Cielo and the Jesusita Trail continuing towards the left. The Jesusita Trail then crosses Mission Creek at which point you’ll want to turn and head upstream following Mission Creek to the first set of pools. There is no established trail but a route can be found using the mix of social trails and rock hopping that is available.

Seven Falls is actually a series of pools and cascades along the upper reaches of Mission Creek and the main site has 4 falls of varying sizes depending on how you count them. If you’re game for more rock scrambling there are 3 more pools to be found further up Mission Creek. Seven Falls is also easily the most popular front country trail and so if you’re wanting peace and quiet along with your scenery you may want to consider going on a week day.

Seven Falls Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest Waterfall

One of the Upper Pools at Seven Falls

To get the trailhead find your way to Tunnel Road and drive to the end. Parking is found along the side of the road, and on the weekends may involve additional walking along Tunnel Road, please be mindful that this is a residential neighborhood.

The last on this list, and in some ways the most impressive of our front country waterfalls is Tangerine Falls, it is also more challenging to get to as it involves scrambling over rocks and following a trail that is easy to miss. The hike to Tangerine Falls is roughly 3 miles round trip.

The route to Tangerine Falls starts along the Cold Springs Trail, which at the quarter mile mark from the trailhead branches, with the Cold Springs Trail continuing to the right and ultimately arriving at Camino Cielo and the West Fork Cold Springs Trail continuing to the left. At this trail juncture, cross the creek and continue along the West Fork Cold Springs Trail.

About a half mile later, on the right, is the turnoff for Tangerine Falls. The trail is not marked and is easy to miss, the trick is to notice that thus far the West Fork Cold Springs Trail has been following Cold Springs Creek. Just past the turnoff the West Fork Cold Springs Trail continues up a side canyon, which generally has little or no water flowing in it, while the trail to Tangerine Falls drops down towards the creek and then continues up Cold Springs Creek. Cold Springs Creek when flowing has noticeably more water in it than the side creek.

From here the trail to Tangerine Falls is more of a well used social trail and continues upstream, and does involve some rock scrambling, including a short traverse to get to the base of the falls. Tangerine Falls are over 100 feet high, and when flowing make for an impressive sight, from the base of the falls one also treated to some great views down the canyon and out towards the coast. The falls take their name from the mineral deposits on the rocks that give some of them a pale orange color.

Tangerine Falls Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara Hike Waterfall Los Padres National Forest

Folks enjoying the scenery at Tangerine Falls

To get to the trailhead find your way to the intersection of Cold Springs Road and East Mountain Drive and continue east on East Mountain Drive to where it crosses Cold Springs Creek. Parking is to be found along the road.

There are also smaller and lesser known waterfalls, as well as numerous cascades and pools waiting to be discovered in our local mountains.

This article originally appeared in section A of the April 22nd, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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