Posted by: James Wapotich | May 21, 2012

Trail Quest: Toro Canyon Park

If you’re looking for a short hike that’s relatively close to town then the trail at Toro Canyon County Park may be the answer. The trail is a short loop of less than a mile but offers some nice views of the surrounding area and a taste of our local frontcountry.

To get to the park from Santa Barbara take Highway 101 south to the Padaro Lane exit, continue along Via Real towards Carpinteria and then turn left onto Toro Canyon Road, towards the mountains.

From Toro Canyon Road turn right onto Toro Canyon Park Road. Toro Canyon Park Road follows a small canyon before cresting a ridge and dropping down into Toro Canyon County Park. The 74-acre park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk and has several groups sites that can be reserved. The trailhead is located at the far end of the park between group sites 2 and 4, the sites are not laid out in numerical order. Parking is free.

Toro Canyon Park Santa Barbara hiking trial

The Gazebo at Toro Canyon Park

From the trailhead, the trail follows an unpaved access road across a small grassy field before beginning its climb out of the valley. Toro Canyon Park is not actually in Toro Canyon, but in a neighboring canyon that ultimately connects with Arroyo Paredon.

The trail leads through a good mix of chaparral and it’s hard to believe that one is still in a park, and is a good reminder that one doesn’t need to hike far up into the hills to see chaparral in its natural state.

At roughly the quarter mile mark the trail branches, ultimately forming a loop to an overlook that features a gazebo. Continuing to the left, the plants become more dominated by scrub oak and chamise, although one plant that does stand out this time of year is deer weed or Califoria broom. Deer weed is a low subshrub in the pea family with yellow flowers and what’s interesting about this plant is that when the flowers are pollinated or age they turn red.

At about the half mile mark the trail arrives at the gazebo overlooking Arroyo Paredon to the east and back towards the oak shrouded park with its grassy meadow to the west. On a clear day one is also afforded some expansive views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and the gazebo with its benches can provide a shaded place to rest.

Continuing clockwise around the loop, the trail follows the ridge and then turns and starts heading back down to the trailhead. At that turn on your left is a steep, overgrown trail that drops down to Group Area 1. Another side trail also appears on your left just before the intersection that forms the loop, and leads back down to Group Area 3; both of these side trails are steep, unmaintained and end in poison oak.

The whole loop along the access road is less than a mile, and can make for a nice excursion while enjoying one’s time at the park.

If you’re interested in a little more exploring while in the area, the nearby Toro Ridge Trail is worth a visit. The lower portion of the trail starts along Toro Canyon Park Road roughly a half mile from Toro Canyon Road; the trailhead looks a bit like a gated access road. The trail is marked however and follows the small valley up to the same ridge that one would crest while driving into the park. Here the Toro Ridge Trail joins Toro Canyon Park Road for less than a 100 feet before arriving at the beginning of the upper portion of the trail.

Toro Canyon Park Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara hiking trail

View from the Toro Ridge Trail

The lower portion of the Toro Ridge Trail is about a quarter mile long, somewhat overgrown and doesn’t look like it sees many visitors. The upper portion however does see more traffic as it ultimately leads to an overlook that offers some great views of Carpinteria and the coast.

The upper portion of the Toro Ridge Trail starts right at the top of Toro Canyon Park Road just before it drops down into the valley. The trail is in good shape and traverses the back side of the ridge and offers nice views towards Toro Canyon Park and the Santa Ynez Mountains. The trail is shaded with oak trees most of the way, however the plant that dominates the landscape here is German Ivy. German Ivy also known as Cape Ivy is a non-native plant from South Africa that does well in our Mediterranean Climate.

At about the half mile mark the upper portion of the Toro Ridge Trail crests the ridgeline that it’s been traversing and arrives at a stone bench overlooking Carpinteria. From this vantage one is rewarded with some greats views looking out across the local flower nurseries, the Carpinteria Salt Marsh and out along the coast. The hike along the entire length of the Toro Ridge Trail is about 1.5 miles roundtrip.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see a unique corner of our local front country.

This article originally appeared in section A of the May 21st, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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