Posted by: James Wapotich | March 14, 2014

Trail Quest: Tequepis Canyon

According to county rainfall records, the rainiest places in Santa Barbara County are two areas found in the Santa Ynez Mountains; one is around La Cumbre Peak and the other is around Broadcast and Santa Ynez Peaks.

Both Broadcast and Santa Ynez Peaks overlook Tequepis Canyon, which is on the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Tequepis Trail leads through the canyon, and to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Essentially two hikes in one, the trail offers a number of highlights. Along the route one can make a shorter hike to Tequepis Canyon Falls, about 3 miles roundtrip, or continue to the top of the mountains, about 8 miles roundtrip. The longer hike includes views of Cachuma Lake and the Pacific Ocean, and passes through a stand of plants more commonly found in northern California.

The trailhead for the hike is located near Circle V Ranch Camp. From Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 over San Marcos Pass. Continue past the turnoff for Paradise Road towards Cachuma Lake. The turnoff for Circle V Ranch Camp is past the turnoff for Rancho Alegre and just before Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. In fact, you’ll see a sign on your right indicating that it’s three-quarters of a mile to the recreation area, and then almost immediately on your left you’ll see the turnoff and signs for Circle V Ranch Camp and Camp Whittier. You’ll know you’ve gone too far if you arrive at the turnoff for the lake.

Continue south along the access road to the camps. The road quickly branches with the road to the right continuing toward Camp Whittier. Stay to the left and follow the route marked with signs leading towards Circle V Ranch Camp that continues up Tequepis Canyon. The road is paved part of the way, and is suitable for most vehicles.

Park just outside the main entrance to Circle V Ranch Camp in the parking area provided there, and continue on foot, past the pool to the trail. Please respect private property at all times. The trail continues briefly past several camp cabins before crossing the creek and continuing along a fire road for the first mile.

Tequepis Canyon Falls map hike trail Santa Barbara Los Padres National Forest

Map courtesy

Here, the trail continues through oak woodland. The road branches a couple of times, but the trail stays with the main road that follows the creek upstream through the canyon.

Tequepis Canyon takes its name from the Chumash village of Teqepsh, which was likely located along Tequepis Creek near the Santa Ynez River. The word teqepsh means seed beater, which is a flat-shaped basket with a handle used by the Chumash to gather small seeds from plants such as chia sage. The basket was typically made from three-leaved sumac and shaped somewhat like a tennis racket, and was used to loosen and knock seeds into another basket worn around the waist by the gatherer.

Close to the one-mile mark, the road arrives at an open clearing. Here, one gets their first views out across the Santa Ynez Valley towards Cachuma Lake and the San Rafael Mountains, as well as up the canyon towards Broadcast and Santa Ynez Peaks, which are both dotted with radio towers.

Just past the clearing the trail arrives at the turnoff for Tequepis Canyon Falls. The side trail to the falls is not marked, but it begins between two trail signs and so is easy to locate.

One sign points out the route to the top of the mountains, while the other references the route back to “Camp Cielo” and the trailhead.

In 1923, Santa Barbara Council of Boy Scouts, now known as Los Padres Council, established Camp Drake on the 31-acres where Circle V Ranch Camp is now located. The scouts used the camp until the mid-1960s, before moving to nearby Rancho Alegre, which was donated to the scouts in 1963 by the Clark Family.

1966, the scouts sold Camp Drake to the local Camp Fire Girls council, who had previously been renting the site for their own programs. The Camp Fire Girls renamed the site Camp Cielo.

And in 1990, the site was purchased by Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of Los Angeles for its summer camp programs. The group renamed it Circle V Ranch Camp, and it’s interesting to consider that for almost 100 years kids have been camping and connecting with nature along this stretch of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

For the hike to the falls continue between the two signs along the fairly well worn trail. The trail continues up the canyon, before then dropping down into the creek. The trail through the creek is less well defined and can be rocky at times, but the falls are hard to miss.

The roughly 25-foot high falls are currently enjoying a modest flow from the recent rains.

From the turnoff to the falls, Tequepis Trail moves away from the creek and continues towards the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and West Camino Cielo. The trail leads through mostly oak woodland, and soon passes a lone representative of madrone.

A relative of manzanita, madrone, which also has reddish bark, is more commonly found in northern California. Madrone, like California bay laurel, can sometimes re-sprout from its root burl after a forest fire forming a circle of new growth where the original tree once appeared. In fact, this tree may be a survivor from the 1955 Refugio Fire, which burned much of the surrounding area.

As the trail continues its climb, it transitions from oak woodland into chaparral. Here, the wide switchbacks of the trail offer alternating views of Tequepis Canyon and the next canyon over to the east, as well views at times out across the valley towards Lake Cachuma and the San Rafael Mountains.

As the trail nears the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains the trees again become more forest like and the trail more shaded. Here, the trail passes through plants more commonly associated with northern California, and are remnants from a time when southern California was a much wetter region and even supported redwood trees.

Some of the more noticeable plants here are madrone, tanbark oak and sword fern. A helpful tool, in this case, before the hike, can be an internet image search of these plants to help familiarize oneself with their appearance, making it easier to recognize them along the trail.

There is something satisfying, even hopeful, about standing amidst a healthy grove of plants that harken back to another time. A similar stand of trees can also be found along Kinevan Road near San Marcos Pass.

At the 4-mile mark, the trail arrives at the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Here, one is treated to exceptional views of the surrounding area. To the north, one can gaze out across Cachuma Lake towards the San Rafael Mountains, and even catch a glimpse of Hurricane Deck and the Sierra Madres Mountains.

To the south the views extend out along the coast, and out towards the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day can include great views of all four of the Channel Islands off our coast.

From top of Tequepis Trail one can extend their hike to Broadcast Peak. Continuing west along the fuel break that runs along the top of the mountains, one can follow the somewhat steep social trail that follows the fuel break to the top of the peak. The peak can also be reached by following the more circuitous route along West Camino Cielo Road. From Broadcast Peak it’s a mile further west over to Santa Ynez Peak.

Regardless of how far you go, you’ll get to see some of the rich beauty of our local mountains.

This article originally appeared in section A of the March 14th, 2014 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. When do you think the trail will be re-opened after the Whittier fire?

    • Hey Rick, the Forest Service sometimes waits until after the winter/spring rains before opening trails that have been burned, that way they can assess the full impact of the fire plus any subsequent flooding. That said, it’s best to check with the Forest Service and see what they say around when they think it’ll be open.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: