Posted by: James Wapotich | November 24, 2012

Trail Quest: Figueroa Mountain

In many ways Figueroa Mountain is a place for all seasons. In the spring time the Figueroa Mountain area is most famous for its wild flower displays, in the summer it can often be cooler than lower down in the valley, and in the winter it will occasionally see snow. And regardless of what time of year you go, there are always great views available.

Hurricane Deck is seen from Willow Springs Trail

There are several ways to reach Figueroa Mountain. By car one can drive to the summit and enjoy one of the nearby picnic sites. And if you’re looking for a way to see more of the area on foot and make a full day of it, there is a way to craft a hike to summit of Figueroa Mountain from Davy Brown Campground.

The hike from Davy Brown campground to Figueroa Mountain is about 7 miles roundtrip. The trail leads though Fir and Willow Canyons, providing both some great scenery as well as expansive views of the surrounding area as it climbs towards the top.

To get to the trailhead at Davy Brown Campground from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154, past Cachuma Lake, to Armour Ranch Road, on your right. You’ll know you’ve missed the turnoff if you arrive a few minutes later at the turn off for State Route 246.

Oaks provide shade along the beginning of Davy Brown Trail

Follow Armour Ranch Road approximately 1.5 miles to the beginning of Happy Canyon Road, on the right. Happy Canyon Road makes its way through the ranches that line Happy Canyon, before then climbing out of the canyon towards Cachuma Saddle and the San Rafael Mountains.

At Cachuma Saddle the road arrives at a 4-way intersection, with Figueroa Mountain Road on your left and McKinley fire road on your right. Here Happy Canyon Road changes names and continues north as Sunset Valley Road.

From the Saddle continue along Sunset Valley Road as it descends down into Sunset Valley towards Davy Brown Campground. Look for the entrance to Davy Brown Campground on your left, you’ll know if you’ve gone to far as the road dead ends a mile later at Nira Campground.

At Davy Brown Campground, as you turn into the site, stay to the right and look for a place to park on the left, by the creek; or if no place can be found, park close to the entrance and continue down to the trailhead.

The drive to the trail head is roughly an hour and half. An adventure pass is required to park or camp with this section of the Los Padres National Forest. Car camping is available at both Davy Brown and Nira.

At the far end of Davy Brown Campground the trail crosses the creek that flows alongside the camp, passes through a blue gate, and continues up Fir Canyon, following Davy Brown Creek upstream. This first section of the trail is in good shape, mostly level, and leads through a nice mix of riparian plants.

Small cascade along Davy Brown Creek

At the .75-mile mark the trail branches with Davy Brown Trail, on the left, and Willow Springs Trail on the right. Both routes are denoted with a floppy carsonite sign that says simply “trail”. Davy Brown Trail leads ultimately to Figueroa Mountain Road and is also a nice hike.

From here continue along Willow Springs Trail as it begins to climb its way up Willow Canyon. And although this is the trail less traveled it is still easy to follow.

At the 1.5-mile mark the trail arrives at Willow Springs. The spring is in need of repair and so no water is to be found there, only an empty trough. Just past the spring the trail arrives at small clearing with a single large oak. Here the trail branches, or more precisely Willow Springs Trail arrives at what’s called Willow Spur Trail. To the left Willow Spur Trail connects back over to Davy Brown Trail and to the right Willow Spur Trail continues to up to Zaca Catway Road. Both routes are marked with a carsonite sign.

Stay to the right and continue along Willow Spur Trail. The trail rounds a corner and becomes noticeably more overgrown. The route itself is still easy to determine but does require pushing through some brush, mostly ceanothus. The trail then opens up for a stretch, before then requiring still more pushing through brush as it makes it way up several switchbacks, before finally opening up the rest of the way and taking on the appearance of a regular trail.

View from Willow Springs Trail

At the 2.5-mile mark the trail arrives at Zaca Catway Road. From here hike up the small hill immediately on your left. This hill is the beginning of the route that follows the ridge line that leads to the top of Figueroa Mountain. There is no official trail, however there is a fairly well established social trail that follows the fuel break along the ridge for this last mile.

The route then climbs to the top of a small rise, levels out and then drops down to a small saddle, where one is treated to views looking down Fir Canyon towards Davy Brown on one side, Birabent Canyon and out towards Grass Mountain on the other side, and a decidedly steep climb before you.

This last push uphill to Figueroa Mountain is there to help remind you that you are in fact climbing to the top of a mountain and helps to make the sense of accomplishment that much richer.

A view toward San Rafael Mountain is seen looking east from Figueroa Mountain

At the 3.5-mile mark the trail arrives at the top of Figueroa Mountain where one will find a picnic table, as well as, what’s left of Figueroa Lookout. The view from Figueroa Mountain includes, Hurricane Deck and the Sierra Madre Mountains to the north, Zaca Peak to the west, and San Rafael Mountain to the east.

If you’re wanting to find a shady spot amongst the pines to celebrate your hike, Pino Alto Day Use area is an easy quarter mile from Figueroa Mountain along Figueroa Lookout Road.

Pino Alto Day Use area is tucked amongst a grove of pines and includes several picnic sites as well as half mile interpretative trail that highlights the natural history of the area. A brochure for the interpretive hike is available from the Forest Service’s administrative office at 6755 Hollister Ave. in Goleta.

One can also access and enjoy this same area without the hike by driving directly to Figueroa Mountain for a more leisurely visit.

To drive to Figueroa Mountain, from Santa Barbara take State Route 154 to Los Olivos and turn right onto Figueroa Mountain Road. The drive leads through Alamo Pintado Valley before climbing out of the valley towards Figueroa Mountain. Like Happy Canyon Road, this route also provides some great scenery.

The turnoff for Figueroa Lookout Road is past Figueroa Ranger Station and before Figueroa Campground. Figueroa Lookout Road is a well maintained 2-mile dirt road that leads past Pino Alto and arrives at Figueroa Mountain. An adventure pass is required to park or camp in the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area.

Another way to enjoy the scenery is to car camp at nearby Figueroa Campground and explore the various trails in the area. Figueroa Campground is located amongst a forest of manzanita, pine and oak and features more than 30 campsites, each with a fire ring and picnic table. No water is available at any of the sites, but there is no fee to camp there beyond the required adventure pass.

Click here for a map of the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area with descriptive notes of the campgrounds and trails from the Forest Service.

This article originally appeared in section A the November 24th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. […] sometimes referred to as the Little Four, are Zaca Peak (4,341’), Ranger Peak (4,528’), Figueroa Mountain (4,633’), and Cachuma Mountain (4,696’) each of which of can be visited in a […]

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