Posted by: James Wapotich | November 3, 2012

Trail Quest: North Romero Trail

There are a number of trails that can be accessed from Romero Saddle, along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. There is Romero Trail and Old Romero Road which lead back down towards Summerland, that more people are familiar with, and provide a way to make a loop hike through Romero Canyon.

And from the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Romero Trail also continues down the backside of the mountains into Blue Canyon. Occasionally referred to as North Romero Trail, this lesser known trail allows one to access Blue Canyon Camp and makes for an interesting hike of about 6 miles roundtrip.

To get to the trail head find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara, near where Sheffield Reservoir Open Space is located. The park used to be a city reservoir and while the art deco like building remains, the rest of the reservoir has been covered and converted into a 20-acre open space.

Take Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turn right on to East Camino Cielo Road. On a clear day this drive along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains offers incredible views of the Santa Barbara Backcountry stretching north on your left and expansive views of the coast on your right.

There are also a number of places along East Camino Cielo where one can pull off the road, take in the scenery and more safely be mesmerized by the view.

East Camino Cielo Road continues along the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains all the way to Romero Saddle where it technically ends. Here the road continues unpaved and descends down the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains towards the upper portion of the Santa Ynez River Recreation Area and Agua Caliente Hot Springs. The road at this point is referred to as Romero-Camuesa Road, although there is no sign to indicate that.

Another noticeable feature at Romero Saddle is a large cement water tower. Parking is found in the broad pullout across from the water tower. An adventure pass is not required to park here.

As you near Romero Saddle you may notice on the hillside in front of you a trail that continues east along the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains, this unnamed trail leads to Romero Trail, as well as Ocean View Trail. The beginning of the trail is blocked with boulders and looks like it’s fenced off, this is to prevent motorcycle enthusiasts from riding on the trail.

From Romero Saddle, the trail climbs this first hill and continues along the ridge offering views of Romero Canyon and out towards the ocean. And then descends down the first hill towards the second hill in a roller coaster fashion as ridges tend to do.

At the beginning of the second hill you may notice a trail the curves around the north side of the hill and one that climbs up the steep face. Both meet near the top and descend towards the next hill.

It’s here, at about the half mile mark, between the second and third hill that Romero Trail crests the Santa Ynez Mountains and creates a four intersection with the trail you’re one. On your right Romero Trail descends down into Romero Canyon. On your left Romero Trail continues down into Blue Canyon, and straight ahead Ocean View Trail continues towards Divide Peak OHV Road.

Ocean View or Island View Trail depending on who’s describing it continues east along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and connects with Divide Peak OHV road and offers a way to a make a loop hike and explore the top of Escondido Canyon and take in some great views of the islands and Carpinteria.

From this four-way intersection turn left and continue along North Romero Trail. The trail descends through a small canyon lined with chaparral plants.

The trail has just recently been brushed with support from Montecito Trails Foundation, which helps maintain many of the trails behind Montecito, Summerland and Caprinteria.

The trail is clear and easy to follow, leading first through the canyon and then veering west away from it, where it offers some nice views of Blue Canyon and the trail below.

At about the 1.25-mile mark the trail arrives at and crosses Romero-Camuesa Road. The trail is marked on both sides of the road. At this crossing the trail passes through a stand of Madrone with its distinctive red bark appearing similar to Manzanita.

A relative of Manzanita, Madrone typically appears as a tree in contrast to Manzanita which grows as more of a shrub or low tree. And while Manzanita is somewhat common in throughout parts of our backcountry, Madrone is the rarer find. Madrone is more typically found along the Pacific Coast between San Francisco and Puget Sound, but does grow in isolated stands here in our local mountains.

This trail juncture is also about a half mile from Romero Saddle along Romero-Camuesa Road, which means one could either make a short loop of about 2 miles and return to the trailhead, or instead park here and start their hike to Blue Canyon from the road.

From the Romero-Camuesa Road, Romero Trail descends down into Blue Canyon. This section is somewhat steep so make sure to pace yourself for the hike back out. The trail is in good shape and the closer one gets to the canyon the more easy it is to make out the serpentine washes that dot Blue Canyon. It is these same blue-green outcroppings of serpentine that gives Blue Canyon its name.

Serpentine is a metamorphic rock that originally came from beneath the ocean’s crust and was subjected to heat and pressure, chemically altering it as it rose to the surface. Because its physical appearance at times can look similar to lizard or snakeskin its been given the name serpentine.

At about the 3-mile mark Romero Trail arrives at Blue Canyon Trail. The intersection is well marked. From here it’s less than a quarter mile downstream along Blue Canyon Trail to Blue Canyon Camp, in spite of what the trail sign says.

Blue Canyon Camp makes for a good rest stop and return point. The camp is shaded, has a picnic table and there is often water in the creek just below the camp, near where a side creek flows into Blue Canyon Creek. The camp can also make a nice destination for an overnight backpacking trip.

From here one can extend their hike by following Blue Canyon Trail. Downstream from Blue Canyon Camp it’s roughly another 1.25 miles to Cottam Camp, which is situated under several oak trees on the edge of a grassy meadow. The camp is near the confluence of Blue Canyon and Forbush Creeks, although there is typically only water there in the spring. Cottam Camp also has a picnic table and fire ring and can make for a good backpacking destination as well.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some of the variety of terrain afforded us in the mountains behind Santa Barbara.

This article originally appeared in section A of the November 3rd, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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