Posted by: James Wapotich | December 14, 2013

Trail Quest: The Trails of Leo Flores, Part 2

Leo Flores was a vaquero who worked for the Alexander Ranch; during his lifetime he traveled a number of trails and roads in what is now Los Padres National Forest. His father, José Flores, had a ranch in Sycamore Canyon and owned the Flores Flat along Gibraltar Road. Leo’s uncle, Carlos Flores, homesteaded in the Santa Barbara backcountry, along Santa Cruz Creek, at a site also known as Flores Flat.

Born in 1887, and raised at the family’s ranch, Leo Flores likely used La Cumbre Trail, the forerunner to Gibraltar Road, to travel from Sycamore Canyon to Flores Flat. During his youth, Leo also helped his father build trails and roads for the Forest Service.

In 1914, Leo Flores was hired by Edward W. Alexander to work at his ranch along the Santa Ynez River where Rancho Oso is now located. In traveling between his family’s ranch in Santa Barbara and his home at the Alexander Ranch, Leo may have also used trails such as Arroyo Burro Trail, and what was sometimes referred to as Summit or Crest Trail, which was the forerunner to East Camino Cielo Road.

Flores Flat Santa Cruz Trail San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Hike West Fork Santa Cruz Creek

Flores Flat, along Santa Cruz Creek

Leo Flores worked at the Alexander Ranch for more than 30 years, serving as ranch foreman. The ranch ran cattle along Santa Cruz Creek and had a cabin that was located downstream from his uncle’s property. To reach the cabin and drive cattle to and from the ranch, Leo would travel downstream, along the Santa Ynez River, to Oso Creek and then follow what was called Alexander Trail.

Alexander Trail followed Oso Creek upstream to an unnamed side creek, about a half mile past where Upper Oso is now located. From there, the trail continued up to the ridge line, following it toward Alexander Peak, and then descended down the backside of the mountain to Santa Cruz Creek. Remnants of the trail can still be found today.

The trail is shown on older USGS topographic maps. In fact, a fun resource is the USGS website which has both current and historic topographic maps available online. For historic maps go to and scroll down to Historical Topographic Map Collection.

Alexander Trail Peak Los Padres National Forest Upper Oso Creek Santa Cruz Trail Santa Barbara hike

Section of a 1955 USGS Topo map showing the route of the Alexander Trail from Oso Creek to Alexander Peak

To reach Santa Cruz Creek today, one would instead take Santa Cruz Trail. The trail was likely built in the 1930s, along with the other trails and roads built by Civilian Conservation Corp during the Great Depression.

Santa Cruz Creek is best visited as part of a three-day backpacking trip. The hike to Santa Cruz Camp is about 11 miles, and from there it’s another 2.75 miles to Flores Flat. Water can be found along the way at Little Pine Spring, and seasonally in Santa Cruz Creek.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara take State Route 154 over San Marcos Pass and continue to Paradise Road. Turn right onto Paradise Road and continue to Lower Oso Day Use Area. At Lower Oso turn left onto Romero-Camuesa Road and continue another mile to Upper Oso Campground, where the road ends.

Parking for the hike is found at the trailhead, just to the right of the campground at the locked Forest Service gate. At Upper Oso one also can find campsites, horse corrals and trailer parking. An adventure pass is required to park or camp in this part of the National Forest. Reservations are required to camp at Upper Oso.

Santa Cruz Trail map Los Padres National Forest Barbara hike camping

Map courtesy

From Upper Oso, the trail follows the unpaved Buckhorn-Camuesa Road for the first .75 mile and parallels Oso Creek. The road is open to OHV (off-highway vehicle) traffic so be alert for motorcycles and ATVs.

At about the .75-mile mark, Santa Cruz Trail officially begins, leaving Buckhorn-Camuesa Road and continuing along Oso Creek. A mile later the trail arrives at the turnoff for Nineteen Oaks. The camp is located on a broad mesa overlooking Oso Canyon and has two campsites.

Past Nineteen Oaks, Santa Cruz Trail leaves Oso Creek and begins its long climb towards Alexander Saddle and Little Pine Mountain. The trail is in good shape having seen recent trail work by Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers.

As the trail climbs, it offers exceptional views out across the canyon and towards the Santa Ynez Mountains. At about the 5.5-mile mark, the trail arrives at Alexander Saddle, where one is treated to views out towards the Channel Islands, and to the north, the San Rafael Mountains.

At the saddle, the trail branches. To the left an informal trail follows the ridge line a half mile west to the top of Alexander Peak. From the peak one can see remnants of Alexander Trail along the ridge below. To the right, the trail continues east to Little Pine Mountain and Happy Hollow.

From Alexander Saddle, Santa Cruz Trail descends down the backside of the mountain towards Santa Cruz Creek. About a mile later the trail arrives at the turn off to Little Pine Spring. Here, one can find a campsite and reliable water source.

In the early 1900s, Florentine Garcia built a cabin at the site, and ran sheep and goats before giving up his claim.

Past the Little Pine Spring, Santa Cruz Trail continues down towards Santa Cruz Creek. The trail was recently work by California Conservation Corp and is in good shape.

At the 11-mile mark, the trail arrives at Santa Cruz Camp. The camp was established in 1931, and features a half dozen campsites spread out along the creek. Santa Cruz Creek runs seasonally. Currently there are slow moving pools in the creek, rich with sulphur and tannin, and so it’s best to stock up on water at Little Pine Spring.

To the east of the last campsite, past the horse corral, one can find what’s left of the Alexander Cabin. The cabin was built in 1918 and served as a hunting retreat and base camp for the cattle ranching operation.

Los Padres National Forest Santa Cruz Camp Creek Trail Station Leo Flores E. W. Alexander Ranch Cabin Santa Barbara hike

Fireplace from E. W. Alexander Cabin that has been converted into a barbecue

In 1933, Mr. Alexander passed away; three years later his wife sold the Alexander Ranch, as well as the cabin to T. P. Dalzell. Leo Flores continued as ranch foreman, and the ranch continued to run cattle along Santa Cruz Creek until 1946, when Mr. Dalzell sold the ranch to Jacob M. Dickson. A year later Mr. Dickson conveyed the cabin to the Forest Service, and in 1949 sold the ranch to M. K. Duryea who renamed it Ranch Oso.

The cabin site later served as a trail camp. Today what remains is an old picnic table, camp stove, and part of the original fireplace that’s been converted into a barbecue pit by the Santa Ynez Valley Sportsman Association.

From Santa Cruz Camp, Santa Cruz Trail leaves the creek, climbing towards Romo Potrero. The broad, grassy hillsides were once the home of Francisco Romo who built a cabin there in the late 1800s and homesteaded the land with his wife and family. The potrero is shown on most maps as Roma Potrero.

Romo Roma Potrero Santa Cruz Trail Santa Barbara Hike Flores Flat Los Padres National Forest

Romo Potrero

At the top of the potrero, Santa Cruz Trail enters San Rafael Wilderness, and descends down to West Fork Santa Cruz Creek and continues upstream towards Flores Flat.

At about the 2.75-mile mark from Santa Cruz Camp, the trail arrives at Flores Flat, where Leo’s uncle once lived. In 1896, Carlos Flores built a cabin at the site and homesteaded there. He is said to have constructed irrigation ditches to water his crops, channeling water from the confluence of Coche and Santa Cruz Creeks.

At Flores Flat, one can find a campsite located under a large oak tree at the edge of the meadow. Water can currently be found in the creek roughly a quarter mile upstream from camp.

After his retirement as ranch foreman, in 1946, Leo Flores lived at his family’s ranch in Sycamore Canyon. To keep active, Leo worked as a gardener until he passed away in 1963.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 14th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Flores Flat West Fork Santa Cruz Creek Los Padres National Forest San Rafael Wilderness Santa Cruz Trail Santa Barbara hike

West Fork Santa Cruz Creek about a quarter mile upstream from Flores Flat


  1. Just happened to find this post, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes, having backpacked all through there 50 years ago. Now living in KY and often dream of returning to hike there again (especially since I was born and grew up in Santa Barbara), but nowadays I can’t tell if you can even get back in there. Feels like nothing’s being maintained as we “privatize” management of public lands to corporations that have no interest at all in maintenance. So damn sad. – Pete Healy, 5/03/2020

    • Hey Pete, glad you enjoyed the post. Flores Flats and Santa Cruz Creek is still mostly accessible. There was flood and fire damage to the trail as it heads up and over Alexander Saddle following the 2016 Rey Fire, but an experienced hiker can make it through. While it is true that the forest service has less resources for trail maintenance compared to 40-50 years ago, a lot of great work is being done by volunteers. The main driver of backcountry trail work is the Los Padres Forest Association,; they work closely with the forest service and have dozens of backcountry trail projects each year that help keep trails open. The Santa Cruz Trail is a little different in that it’s not just brushing and tread work that’s needed (some of which has happened), but repair to the crib walls and other challenges that will take more time and money to solve. Nevertheless, people are still venturing back there.

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