Posted by: James Wapotich | July 7, 2012

Trail Quest: Midland Trails

If you’re looking for a way to explore a quiet corner of the San Rafael Mountains then the trails on the Midland School property may be the answer. The trails are on private property but are open to hiking provided one obtains a hiking permit at Midland School.

Midland School is about 6 miles past Los Olivos along Figueroa Mountain Road at the upper end of Alamo Pintado Valley, just before it transitions into Birabent Canyon in the foothills of the San Rafael Mountains. The trails lead through a mix of oak and pine, as well as riparian and chaparral plants and offers a chance to see some great scenery.

The part of Midland’s property that is open to hiking is adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and covers roughly 1500 acres. The network of trails on the property makes it possible to craft several loop hikes, explore Birabent Canyon, or even make larger, more challenging loops.

Midland School Trails map birabent canyon los padres national forest Figueroa Mountain Road hiking Grass Mountain Zaca Peak

To get to the trail head from Los Olivos take Figueroa Mountain Road north to Midland School, 5100 Figueroa Mountain Road, where you’ll need to stop and fill out a hiking permit. At the turnoff for the school, cross the bridge into the parking area and on your right you’ll see a metal box on a post with the words hiking permit painted on it.

A map of the trails has recently been completed by the Santa Barbara Trails Council and will soon be available there as well. The hiking permit is good for the day. No overnight camping is allowed and the trails are not open to mountain bikes. Only the trails north of Figueroa Mountain Road are open to the public. Trails are closed during rainy weather.

From Midland School continue another mile further along Figueroa Mountain Road, there is large pullout along the side of the road just before it crosses Alamo Pintado Creek where one can park. From there continue on foot across the bridge to the trailhead.

From the trailhead the main trail leading into the property follows Alamo Pintado Creek and stays on the south side of the creek for the first half mile. There are several side trails as well as some cattle trails mixed in, as the property is on occasion used for grazing.

At the half mile mark the trail crosses the creek and arrives at a large sycamore tree, the trail to the left of the tree continues up towards Maple Canyon while the trail to right continues along the creek further up Birabent Canyon. All of the trails are unmarked.

One of the nicer hikes is the one through Maple Canyon and is about 2.5 miles roundtrip. From the sycamore tree continue to the left, the trail then climbs above the creek heading north towards Maple Canyon through mostly chaparral. A quarter mile later the trail arrives at the intersection with the Red Rock Springs Trail on the left. Just past this intersection Maple Canyon Trail crests a small rise which opens up into a small grassy field.

Here Maple Canyon Trail splits to make a loop, the two trails slowly diverge with the trail to the left paralleling a rocky ridge, and the trail to the right continuing around the ridge and up into Maple Canyon. For the loop continue to the right. It’s through this section that one can enjoy some great views of Birabent Canyon, Grass Mountain, Maple Canyon and Zaca Ridge.

The trail continues up the canyon, becoming overgrown in some places, before then turning west and climbing out of the canyon and essentially heading back down the canyon but at a higher elevation. The trail then arrives at the top of a ridge overlooking the canyon where it intersects the trail to Coulter Pine Ridge. From here continue down towards the nearby cattle trough.

From the cattle trough the trail follows the fence line down into a small wash and continues back to down to the end of the loop.

Another loop hike that one can make is the Lover’s Lane Loop, which is about about 3 miles roundtrip. This trail starts at the trailhead and is much more challenging. The first part of the trail is in great shape as it was recently worked in the spring by the Santa Barbara Trails Council which received a grant to improve the trail for equestrian usage. The Trails Council will resume working on the trail in the fall when the weather becomes cooler, but for now several sections remain grassy and overgrown and can be hard to follow.

From the trailhead keep an eye out for a trail immediately on your right. This is the beginning of the Lover’s Lane Trail. This first section has recently been worked and is easy to follow. The trail parallels the road before eventually turning north away from the road. The trail then does become indistinct in places but is flagged with red ribbon.

At about the one mile mark the trail branches with the trail to the left continuing back down to the creek. The Lover’s Lane Loop continues to the right and is again flagged. The trail then crosses a grassy slope and connects up with another section of trail that was recently worked.

The newly constructed trail is easy to follow, but then just ends. The red flagging does continue, but the trail at this point becomes much more challenging to follow as it crests the next hill, where it meets a barbed wire fence and more or less disappears. The trick at this point is to follow the fence east to where it intersect what looks like a cattle trail coming up from the canyon. This is actually the continuation of the Lover’s Lane Loop Trail.

From here the trail improves and become much easier to follow as it makes its way down towards the creek. At the 2 mile mark the trail arrives at Alamo Pintado Creek. Continuing downstream the trail arrives at the intersection for the Grass Mountain Trail, which offers a challenging hike to the top of Grass Mountain, where one is rewarded with some exceptional views of the surrounding area.

Shortly after this intersection the trail arrives at the Maple Canyon Trail. From here one can continue back down the creek to the trailhead or add on the Maple Canyon Loop for a longer hike of about 5 miles altogether.

The Santa Barbara Trails Council plans to complete work on the Lover’s Lane Trail as well as several other trails on the property in the fall of this year. There is also plans to install signage at some of the key intersections.

Among its other projects the Trails Council is also working to extend the Baron Ranch Trail, and is actively working to open up sections of the Coastal Trail which one day could stretch all the way from Goleta to Gaviota. To find more about the Santa Barbara Trails Council go to One way to support the work is by donating and becoming a member. New members also receive a packet of 7 trail maps highlighting our various front country trails plus the map for the Midland Trails.

Midland School was established in 1932 and a number of classes and programs make use of the land surrounding the school as well as the nearby San Rafael Wilderness. For more information about Midland School go to

About a quarter of the trails on the Midland property are also open to equestrian use and with the completion of the trail work in the fall that number will increase. To find out more about riding the trails contact Midland School directly.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 7th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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