Posted by: James Wapotich | September 2, 2014

Trail Quest: The Great Traverse, Part 1

If you have hiked more than a couple of our front country trails, or studied a local trail map, you may have noticed that many of the front country trails lead up different canyons into the Santa Ynez Mountains. You may have also noticed that many of these same trails have connector trails leading over to the neighboring canyons. This raises the question as to how many of these trails can one connect together to create a hike that traverses the front of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

It turns out that one can craft a route that stretches from Stevens Park all the way to Romero Canyon, a total of about 18 miles one way. This route is sometimes referred to as the Nine Trails Hike because it incorporates portions of nine front country trails.

In fact, in 1990, Patsy Dorsey created the Santa Barbara Nine Trails 35-mile Endurance Run. The course leads runners from the Jesusita Trailhead to the Romero Canyon Trailhead, and then back along the same route. This year’s run was held earlier in August, and the best time was an amazing 6:40:08.

9 trails hike run Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Tunnel Trail

Arlington and La Cumbre Peak are seen from Tunnel Trail

For hikers, the best approach is a shuttle trip. That is, starting the hike at one end and parking a second car at the other end or arranging for a ride. And, although the route can conceivably be hiked in a single day, it does involve a lot of up and down and can be strenuous as it climbs out of one canyon and down into the next. Fortunately, about mid-way through the hike the route crosses and follows Gibraltar Road, making this a natural place to break the hike into two sections.

The first section from Stevens Park to Gibraltar Road is about 9.5 miles long and makes use of Jesusita, Tunnel and Rattlesnake Trails.

A helpful map of the front country trails is A Hiker’s Guide to the Santa Barbara Front Country by Raymond Ford. The map includes most of the trails between State Route 154 and Summerland, and on the backside of the map, descriptives notes about the trails.

To get to the trailhead at Stevens Park, from Highway 101, take the Las Positas Road exit and continue north to State Street. Las Positas Road crosses State Street and becomes San Roque Road. Continue north on San Roque Road to Calle Fresno, and turn left. From Calle Fresno turn right on Canon Drive and continue to Stevens Park.

map Los Padres National Forest Stevens Park Jesusita Trail Inspiration Point Seven Falls Rattlesnake Gibrlatar

Map courtesy

The park is open from sunrise to sunset. If you are planning on leaving your car after hours it’s best to park on a residential street outside of the park as the parking lot is gated when the park is closed.

From Stevens Park, the trail follows San Roque Creek upstream and leads through mostly oak woodland and riparian plants. The trail passes under Foothill Road Bridge, which is high above. Along the way, the trail passes a sandstone boulder set in the ground that has several mortars or grinding holes cut into it from the time when the Chumash were the only residents of the area.

As the trail continues past a flood control dam the views open up and one can see Cathedral and Arlington Peaks, and to the east, White Mountain.

At about the 1-mile mark, the trail from Stevens Park arrives at Jesusita Trail. Here, the hike continues up the canyon along Jesusita Trail.

Coast Live Oak Jesusita Trail Los Padres National Forest hike Santa Barbara

Coast live oaks shade the trail along San Roque Creek

Jesusita Trail can also be reached by continuing north along San Roque Road and crossing Foothill Road. The trailhead is just past Cater Water Treatment Plant.

About a half mile past the intersection with the trail from Stevens Park, Jesusita Trail branches, with Arroyo Burro Trail continuing to the left, and Jesusita Trail continuing up San Roque Canyon to the right.

At about the 2.25-mile mark from Stevens Park, Jesusita Trail joins the access road to Moreno Ranch. Please respect private property. Just past the ranch entrance, one can find a shaded picnic table and drinking fountain, amenities provided by the ranch for the benefit of hikers.

The well-marked trail passes briefly through the ranch before making its way up several small side canyons. As the trail continues its climb towards Inspiration Point it passes where the 2009 Jesusita Fire started.

The fire started when sparks from tools being used by two men engaged in unauthorized trail maintenance ignited nearby plants. The fire spread west to State Route 154 and east past Gibraltar Road, buring 8,733 acres. Regrowth and signs of damage from the fire can still be seen along much of the route.

As Jesusita Trail reaches the top of the canyon, it joins an Edison access road. From here, continue east along the unpaved road to where it appears that a trail crosses the road at a right angle. At this intersection Jesusita Trail continues to the left, down into Mission Canyon, while the short trail to the right leads to what is referred to as Inspiration Point. From Inspiration Point one is treated to views of the city and out towards the Channel Islands.

The hike continues along Jesusita Trail as it makes its way towards Mission Creek passing through mostly chaparral. At Mission Creek one can make a short side trip upstream to Seven Falls. The falls are a series of pools and cascades in the sandstone that have been cut by the creek. The side trip to the falls is about a mile roundtrip.

From the Mission Creek crossing, continue east along Jesusita Trail. The trail soon joins another Edison access road and quickly arrives at Tunnel Trail.

The beginning of Tunnel Trail is not marked, however at the junction, there is a sign nearby marking the beginning of Jesusita Trail. You’ll know if you’ve missed Tunnel Trail, as the Edison Road meets Tunnel Access Road, which is paved. Tunnel Access Road begins at the end of Tunnel Road and is an alternate way to reach both Tunnel and Jesusita Trails.

Tunnel Trail essentially climbs up the front of the mountains and is one of the tougher sections of the hike. The trail is largely unshaded, passing through mostly chaparral. The trail however does offer compelling views of Arlington and La Cumbre Peaks to the north, and the city and Channel Islands to the south.

Depression Drive Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara hike Jesusita Tunnel Trail

Trail sign listing Depression Drive as a destination

Eventually Tunnel Trail finishes its long series of switchbacks, and starts to level out, rounding a corner in the topography.

At about the 7.75-mile mark from Stevens Park, the trail arrives at the intersection with Rattlesnake Connector Trail. Here, a Forest Service sign lists Depression Drive as one of the destinations along the trail.

Built during the 1930s, Depression Drive led from Santa Barbara over the mountains to Gibraltar Reservoir. The section of the road on the front side of the mountains later became known as Gibraltar Road.

Rattlesnake Connector Trail descends down into Rattlesnake Canyon where it meets Rattlesnake Trail. The hike continues to the left, up Rattlesnake Canyon, but a short detour down into scenic Tin Can Meadow can be rewarding.

Rattlesnake Trail Canyon hike Santa Barbara Tin Can Meadow

Tin Can Meadow, Rattlesnake Canyon

The meadow takes its name from the shack built there out of ceanothus branches and flattened tin cans by William O’Conner in 1900. The structure later burned down during a forest fire in 1925.

From the meadow, Rattlesnake Trail follows Rattlesnake Creek upstream. The trail then crosses the creek and begins its climb up to Gibraltar Road, offering views up towards Gibraltar Rock, a popular rock climbing destination.

The Rattlesnake trailhead along Gibraltar Road is unsigned and little more than a pull out. From here, it’s another 1.25 miles down Gibraltar Road to the West Cold Spring trailhead, and the beginning of the second half of the traverse.

The West Cold Spring Trailhead is also unsigned, but is recognizable in that the pull out is situated on a hairpin turn in Gibraltar Road and offers the first views east across Cold Spring Canyon towards Montecito Peak.

This article originally appeared in section A of the September 1st, 2014 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Older articles can be seen by scrolling down or using the search feature in the upper right corner. Articles from the News-Press appear here a couple months after they appear in the News-Press.

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