Posted by: James Wapotich | July 28, 2012

Trail Quest: Alder Creek

If you’re looking for a trail in the local backcountry that is rarely visited, rich with local history and even offers views of Carpinteria then the hike to Alder Creek may be the answer. The hike from the trailhead, near Juncal Dam, to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains is roughly 12 miles round trip.

The hike leads through the upper reaches of the Santa Ynez River drainage basin, past Jameson Lake and into some of the more remote areas of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

To get the trailhead find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara, and take Gibraltar Road north to where it meets East Camino Cielo and turn right on to East Camino Cielo. The road follows the ridge line along the Santa Ynez Mountains, and on a clear day you can see the Channel Islands on one side and the Santa Barbara Backcountry stretching north on the other side.

At Romero Saddle, East Camino Cielo does several things, it changes names becoming the Romero-Camuesa Road, although there is no sign, it becomes a dirt road and drops down the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

About a mile and half past Romero Saddle the road branches, the Romero-Camuesa Road, to the left continues down towards the Santa Ynez River. The road is gated here and is seasonally closed due to rain or road damage, and so it’s best to check with the Forest Service regarding current conditions. The road to the right, also known as the Divide Peak OHV road, is permanently gated but is open to OHV (off highway vehicle) traffic and leads back up to the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains and from there continues east for another 10 miles.

Continue to the left along the Romero-Camuesa Road until it crosses the Santa Ynez River. Here you will see another locked gate. This is the access road to Juncal Dam and the beginning of the hike to Alder Creek and Jameson Lake. Parking is found along the road where permitted. Do not block the gate. An adventure pass is still required to park or camp in this part of the National Forest.

From the trailhead continue east along the Juncal access road. The trail passes by where Juncal Campground used to be, on your left. The campground was built in the 1930s and was originally called Bear Camp. The campground is no longer open and was removed to protect sensitive habitat.

The road continues up the Santa Ynez River Valley, before it starts to climb a ridge that separates the Santa Ynez River drainage on the left and the Alder Creek drainage on the right.

As the trail crests the ridge one is rewarded with some nice views of Juncal Dam and Jameson Lake. The dam was built during the 1920s and is the third lake or reservoir found along the Santa Ynez River, with the other two being Cachuma Lake and Gibraltar Reservoir.

At the 3.5 mile mark the road arrives at the turn off for the Franklin Trail. Here the Juncal Road continues to the left towards Murietta Divide and over into the Matilija drainage and ultimately to the trailhead that one would use to access the trails along Matilija Creek.

Because this hike involves a lot of hiking along a dirt road, one option is to mountain bike in along the road and then continue on foot. In fact one option with some planning would be to ride the length of the road from where the old Juncal campground was to the Matilija Canyon trailhead behind Ojai, about 13 miles one way.

From the signed intersection stay to the right as the Franklin Trail follows an access road for the first quarter mile and descends down towards Alder Creek. Along the way you’ll pass by the trestle holding up the flume that carries water diverted from Alder Creek to Jameson Lake.

The road then ends and the actual trail begins, crossing the creek and continuing towards a cement weir or diversion dam at the beginning of the flume. Below the dam there is a small pool.

The creek is aptly named as through this section it’s lined with Alder trees. The trail continues past the weir, alternating between switchbacks and traverses as it makes its way up the canyon towards Alder Camp.

At the about the 5-mile mark the trail arrives at Alder Camp. Alder is a simple camp with a fire ring, and generally has water available in the side creek just before camp. In fact it is this same availability of water that makes the canyon popular with the bears as one can find plenty evidence of bears, ranging from their tracks along the trail to scratch marks on the wooden trestle holding up the flume.

The trail continues past Alder Camp, becoming steeper and more overgrown. The trail is still followable and at the 6-mile marks crests the Santa Ynez Mountains and arrives at Divide Peak OHV road. Here one is rewarded on a clear day with some great views overlooking Carpinteria, the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands.

One can also find the top of the Franklin Trail for the Carpinteria side of the Santa Ynez Mountains by continuing a short way to the west along the OHV road. The trail itself is findable but quickly becomes overgrown and impassable.

The Franklin Trail at one time connected Carpinteria with the backcountry trails. The trail was built in 1913 and has a rich history of usage. In the 1970s access to the trail was closed to the public, passing as it did through private property.

More recently a dedicated group of community members has worked to reopen the trail forming the Friends of the Franklin Trail. This group has done an incredible amount of work to secure easements along the trail and raise over $450,000 to make necessary improvements in order to open the trail to the public. They hope to have the trail open for hiking in the summer of 2013 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the trail.

The reopened trail will start near Carpinteria High School and cover the first 5 miles up to the Forest Service boundary. To support Friends of the Franklin Trail or learn more about their work go to

Regardless of how far you go you’ll get to see a rarely visited corner of the Santa Barbara backcountry.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 28th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press


  1. […] Santa Barbara backcountry. The trail down the backside of the mountains is already open and follows Alder Creek towards Jameson […]

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