Posted by: James Wapotich | January 2, 2017

Trail Quest: Five places to explore in 2017

With a brand new year underway, now is the perfect time to start setting one’s intentions for the coming year, which, of course, includes hiking. Fortunately, we are blessed to be surrounded by so much natural beauty, and have an amazing amount of access to the outdoors with the mountains, beach, and islands all relatively close by.

In fact, with hundreds of different trails to choose from in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties it can be hard to know where to start. And so it’s important remember that just getting out there is often the best part of the journey. Maps can be a great resource for dreaming up places to visit. Asking hikers for their favorites destinations can also lead to learning about new trails to explore.

While it’s tempting to list the most popular trails in our area, or the ones best suited for beginners, here are five hikes that provide a sampling of what our area has to offer.

Matilija Falls West trail hike access creek ojai Los Padres national forest

Matilija Falls

Matilija Falls

One could easily fill up their weekends just visiting the waterfalls in our area. There are more than a dozen picturesque waterfalls in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties alone. And while we are in need of rain to bring them back to life, one waterfall worth visiting this year regardless of the drought is Matilija Falls.

For the past six years, access to the waterfall has been in question. In 2010, the owner of the land the trail passes through to reach the falls decided to block public access. In 2015, a coalition of conservation groups and trail users filed a lawsuit to restore access, arguing the trail had been in use for more than a century. This past fall, an agreement was reached with the landowner that permanently restores access to the falls.

The hike to falls is about 9.5 miles roundtrip and is perhaps best saved for the spring when the falls will be at their fullest for the year.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, make your way to Ojai and continue north on State Route 33 to Matilija Canyon Road. Matilija Canyon Road follows Matilija Creek upstream and ends at the locked gate that serves as the trailhead. Parking is found in the pullouts nearby. The trailhead is about an hour from Santa Barbara.

From the trailhead, continue along the road past the houses. Please respect private property. Stay on the unpaved road, past the trailheads for North Fork Matilija and Murietta Trails. At about the 1-mile mark, the road arrives at Blue Heron Ranch. From here, continue up the main canyon on the ranch road another mile, which ends at the creek.

From here, the route become less distinct and follows the creek upstream to the falls, requiring rock scrambling and offering several appealing swim holes along the way. As the hike continues, it passes a side canyon that contains West Falls, before arriving at Matilija Falls.

monarch butterflies coronada main grove eucalyptus ellwood mesa goleta hike trail

Monarch butterflies gather on eucalyptus trees near Devereux Creek at Ellwood Mesa

Ellwood Mesa

A little closer to home is a hike for all ages, and the best time to visit is now. From mid-November through mid-February, monarch butterflies overwinter amongst the eucalyptus trees at the mesa. The orange and black butterflies can found by the thousands clustered together on the trees.

The hike to the main grove is about a mile roundtrip and can be extended by continuing past the grove and exploring the various trails on Ellwood Mesa or accessing the beach.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north and exit at Glenn Annie-Storke Road. Turn left onto Storke Road and then right onto Hollister Avenue. From Hollister Avenue, turn left onto Coronado Drive and follow it to the end. Parking is found along the street.

From Coronado Drive, follow the trail heading southwest that crosses Devereux Creek and leads over to the main eucalyptus grove where the monarchs can be found.

Eucalyptus trees were first introduced there by Ellwood Cooper in 1872 as a source of lumber. The trees now provide shelter for the monarchs, and the small hollow formed by the Devereux Creek drainage combined with moderate temperatures found along the coast help create an ideal micro-climate for the monarchs to gather in.

The best time to visit is in the morning when the butterflies are less active, appearing in clumps amongst the eucalyptus leaves. At times, there can be as many as 50,000 monarchs at the mesa. For more information about visiting the grove, go to

Santa Cruz Island fox hike trail pelican bay prisoner's harbor Channel Islands National Park

Santa Cruz Island fox

Pelican Bay

If you haven’t been to the Channel Islands yet, then make that your New Year’s Resolution. The islands are a unique world until themselves and have been described as the Galapagos of California.

Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the islands and the hike to Pelican Bay offers in many ways the most variety for a single visit to the islands.

The 4.5-mile roundtrip docent led hike leads through a mix of chaparral, ironwood, and pines, and often includes a chance to see the rare Santa Cruz Island jay and fox.

The easiest way to get to the islands is through Island Packers, which offers boat rides to all five of the islands in the national park. For trip details, go to

The boat to Santa Cruz Island typically leaves from Ventura Harbor and often includes sea lion and dolphins sightings along the way. The first stop is usually Scorpion Anchorage. From there, the boat continues along the north shore of the island to Prisoner’s Harbor.

From Prisoner’s Harbor, the hike leads along the estuary of Cañada del Puerto, near where the Chumash village of Xaxas was located. The trail then continues west along the coast crossing a number of side canyons on its way to Pelican Bay.

It’s here, along the coast, that one is likely to see the Santa Cruz Island jay, which is found only on Santa Cruz. The jay is a brighter blue and a third larger than its ancestor, the mainlaind scrub jay.

Island foxes can also be seen along the trail as well. Descended from gray foxes, the island fox is a third smaller than its mainland ancestor.

Santa Cruz Island jay hike trail pelican bay prisioner's harbor Channel Islands national park

Santa Cruz Island jay

Indian Canyon Falls creek maiden pool Dick Smith Wilderness trail hike backpacking Los Padres National Forest

Indian Canyon Falls

Indian Canyon

In addition to hiking opportunities, we are surrounded by a wealth of backpacking destinations. In Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties there are over 500,000 acres of designated wilderness areas to explore. The least visited of these is the Dick Smith Wilderness.

The hike along Indian Canyon Trail provides an opportunity to visit this remote and rugged section of the backcountry. The hike to Indian Canyon Camp is about 17 miles roundtrip, and from there it’s another three miles roundtrip to reach the scenic double waterfall further upstream.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara. Follow Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turn right onto East Camino Cielo Road. Continue along East Camino Cielo to Romero Saddle. Here, the road becomes unpaved and continues down the backside of the mountains and eventually arrives at the Indian-Mono Trailhead. The trailhead is about two hours from Santa Barbara.

From the trailhead, continue a mile along the gated road to the beginning of Indian Canyon Trail. The trail follows Indian Creek upstream before turning up Buckhorn Canyon. The trail then continues past Lower Buckhorn Camp and climbs over a small rise, returning to Indian Creek and arriving at Meadow Camp. Along the trail one can often find the tracks of coyote, fox, bobcat, mountain lion, bear, and deer.

From Meadow Camp, the trail enters the Dick Smith Wilderness and becomes much more overgrown as it continues upstream to Indian Canyon Camp. Past the camp, one can find remnants of the old trail that leads towards the falls, although most of the hike involves rock hopping. Additional exploring can had by continuing above the falls.

A helpful resource regarding water and trail conditions in the backcountry is The website features user generated reports for trails and camps in Los Padres National Forest.

Mount Pinos pines hike trail Chumash wilderness backpacking Tumamait Trail Los Padres National Forest

Pines grace the hillside along Tumamait Trail

Mount Pinos

Visit almost any of the taller peaks in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and to the north or northeast you’ll see Mount Pinos in the distance. Known as Iwihinmu to the Chumash, which translates as place of mystery, the mountain is the tallest in our local area. Part of the Transverse Ranges, it serves as a transition point between the flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada and our local mountains.

Often covered in snow during the winter, the mountain can make for a great summertime destination when other areas of the backcountry become too hot to enjoy. And because of its distance from urban areas, Mount Pinos is also an excellent place for star gazing.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to Ventura and merge onto State Route 126, and continue east towards Interstate 5. Turn north onto Interstate 5, and continue to Frazier Mountain Park Road. Follow Frazier Mountain Park Road west to Cuddy Valley Road, which leads to the trailhead. Along the way, the road passes McGill and Mount Pinos Campgrounds, which offer car camping. Cuddy Valley Road ends at the the trailhead, which is near the Chula Vista walk-in campground. The trailhead is about 2.5 hours from Santa Barbara.

From the trailhead, it’s about three miles roundtrip to the top of Mount Pinos along an unpaved access road. From there, one can extend the hike along the length of Vincent Tumamait Trail, which follows the top of the pine-covered mountains towards Cerro Noroeste. The trail leads through the Chumash Wilderness and offers short side hikes to the top of Sawmill and Grouse Mountains.

About four miles from the trailhead, Tumamait Trail meets North Fork Lockwood Trail. From here, it’s roughly a quarter of a mile down to Sheep Camp, which is worth the side trip. Sheep Camp is the highest camp in Los Padres National Forest and can also be visited as part of a backpacking trip. The full hike along the ridge from the trailhead is about 12 miles roundtrip.

These are just a few of the trails in our area that one can explore during the coming year.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the January 2nd, 2017 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Jeffrey Pines sheep camp north fork lockwood tumamait trail hike backpacking chumash wilderness los padres national forest

Jeffrey Pines are seen near Sheep Camp

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