Posted by: James Wapotich | May 14, 2018

Trail Quest: La Jolla Trail to Manzana Creek, Part 2

It was late afternoon by the time we’d reached Cedros Saddle. It had already been a full day of hiking overgrown trails and we still had several more miles left to go before we would reach Manzana Creek and camp.

Our day had started along Figueroa Mountain Road at the top of La Jolla Trail, where we descended down into Birabent Canyon. The hike down to Ballard Camp was relatively easy, but as the trail turns up a side canyon it starts to become more overgrown. In fact, the middle section of the trail up to Zaca Ridge rarely sees any visitors and requires a fair amount of bushwhacking and route finding in order to reach what’s referred to as the upper meadow. From there, conditions improve up to Zaca Ridge.

From the top of Zaca Ridge, we followed Zaca Ridge Road to the top of Zaca Spring Trail. Another overgrown and seldom visited trail, Zaca Spring Trail drops down the backside of Zaca Ridge, where it meets Cedros Saddle Trail.

Cedros Saddle Trail, which is in much better condition than the previous two trails, climbs up to the top of the next ridge, which overlooks Manzana Creek. The trail meets Catway Road just past Cedros Saddle.

Across the road from Cedros Saddle Trail is the beginning of Sulphur Springs Trail, which leads down to Manzana Creek.

The idea was to connect these various trails together and make a 15-mile shuttle hike starting from the trailhead along Figueroa Mountain Road, camping along Manzana Creek, and exiting near Nira Campground, along Sunset Valley Road. A useful map of the trails for the area is Bryan Conant’s map of the San Rafael Wilderness.

Although it wasn’t necessarily our intention to follow the trails of Ranger Edgar Davison on our first day, many of the trails around Figueroa Mountain were part of his patrol area. However, on the second day we would be visiting places along Manzana Creek referenced in his journal, including trying to find “Cascade Canyon”, which he had likened to a “miniature Colorado” because of its narrowness.

Davison was one of the first rangers in our local backcountry in what was then Zaca Lake and Pine Mountain Forest Reserve, the forerunner to today’s Los Padres National Forest. His patrol area included the trails between Figueroa Mountain down to and including Manzana Creek.

As part of his patrol route he would often ride the trail along Manzana Creek down to Sulphur Springs Trail and continue up and over Cedros Saddle to reach Zaca Lake. There he would meet with John Libeu, the district ranger who lived at the lake.

Joining me on this hike was Volunteer Wilderness Ranger Curt Cragg. It had been several years since either of us had hiked Sulphur Springs Trial, but we both recalled the trail as being overgrown.

From Catway Road, Sulphur Springs Trail makes its way down towards Manzana Creek. The trail starts off through a mix of manzanita, scrub oak, ceanothus, and other chaparral plants. The trail offers exceptional views of Hurricane Deck, stretching from Castle Rock to the White Ledge area, framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains.

The trail then crosses a private access road, which it also crosses two more times before joining the road for the final leg to Manzana Trail.

Although sections of the trail are overgrown and there is still plenty of poison oak, Sulphur Springs Trail is in much better condition than either us remember, thanks to the trail work of volunteers from Los Padres Forest Association.

As the trail descends into Sulphur Creek Canyon, it follows the intermittently flowing creek downstream through maple trees and other riparian plants, before transitioning into oak woodland and arriving at the road. From here, we continue a short way down the road to the intersection with Manzana Trail.

To the left, Manzana Trail continues downstream towards Manzana Schoolhouse and Sisquoc River. To the right, the trail continues upstream towards the trailhead.

As we continue upstream, the trail follows an easement along a private ranch road. Please respect private property. To the north of the road, across the creek, is the San Rafael Wilderness.

The unpaved road leads past a meadow with old farm equipment from when the Davis family first homesteaded here in the late 1800s. The apple orchard that once grew in the meadow is what gives the area its name, Manzana being the Spanish word for apple.

Knowing Horseshoe Bend will likely be full with campers, we camp about a mile downstream and with the weather not that cold, we forgo having a campfire.

In the morning, we continue upstream along Manzana Trail. Our first stop is Horseshoe Bend Camp. The large, curving meadow has three sites, one near the creek with a grated stove and picnic table, and two more in the meadow, one with a metal fire ring and the other with grated stove and a picnic table that seems to migrate between the two sites. During the spring, when the creek is flowing, there is an inviting swim hole near the camp.

Davison, more than a hundred years ago, also referred to the site as Horseshoe Bend in his journal. He served as a ranger from 1898-1909, before retiring.

From Horseshoe Bend, we continue upstream along Manzana Trail, pausing at the Pratt Homestead site. The site is at the end of a long meadow along the trail, before the second crossing past Horseshoe Bend. The only indicator of the site is the initials “E” and “F” carved on two oak trees by Eddie Fields, the Pratts’ stepson. The Pratts homesteaded there in the late 1800s, but didn’t prove up on their claim. When they moved out they sold their stove and other supplies to Davison, who used them for the cabin he built in Fir Canyon.

We then arrive at Coldwater Camp, which has three sites. A large one under a big oak tree, which features a picnic table and metal fire ring. A second site under a cottonwood tree, which also features a picnic table and metal fire ring. And a third, smaller site, with just a grated stove located at the edge of the meadow.

In his journal, Davison describes his day to day activities, including the places he visited. One entry that caught my eye was “Cascade Canyon”. Davison describes it as “being the narrow and precipitous outlet of two large canyons through the south wall of the Manzana.” In looking at a topographic map of the area, the only place fitting that description is a side canyon upstream from Coldwater Camp.

Past the camp, Curt and I leave Manzana Trail and make our way towards the creek to locate the mouth of the canyon.

The small creek is flowing and the canyon is lined with poison oak in places and narrow like Davison described. As we continue up the canyon, we can see where the creek has carved its way through conglomerate stone. Conglomerate stone is sedimentary rock that is made of rocks, or clasts, that have been cemented together by finer-grained material and in some ways looks like frozen riverbed material. Similar material is also found in Fish Creek Canyon, further up along Manzana Creek.

In all there are a half-dozen medium sized cascades and small pools, some of which are difficult to reach, that live up to the name Davison gave the canyon.

Back on Manzana Trail, we continue upstream and arrive at Potrero Camp. The camp has two sites, both shaded and each with a picnic table and metal fire ring. The first camp we pass is on the north side of the creek, just before the trail juncture with Potrero Trail, which leads up to Hurricane Deck. The second site is on the south side of the creek, past the trail juncture.

Past Potrero Camp, Manzana Trail climbs away from the creek and follows the contours of the canyon upstream to the trailhead, completing the shuttle hike.

The trailhead for lower Manzana Creek is reached from Santa Barbara by taking State Route 154 over San Marcos Pass to Armour Ranch Road. From Armour Ranch Road, turn onto Happy Canyon Road and follow it up to Cachuma Saddle, where it meets Figueroa Mountain Road at a four-way intersection. Continue straight as Happy Canyon Road becomes Sunset Valley Road, which ends at Nira Campground. The campground is about a half-mile past the trailhead for lower Manzana Creek.

Horseshoe Bend Manzana Creek Trail backpacking hiking San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres national forest

The Meadow at Horseshoe Bend

Swim hole Horseshoe Bend Manzana Creek Trail San Rafael Wilderness backpacking hiking los padres national forest

Swimhole at Horseshoe Bend

This article originally appeared in section A of the May 7th, 2018 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press

waterfall cascade canyon San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres national forest Manzana Creek

Small waterfall in Cascade Canyon

Cascade Canyon San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres national forest manzana creek trail

Cascade Canyon

Cascade canyon manzana creek san rafael wilderness los padres national forest

Cascade and Pool, Cascade Canyon

Manzana Creek Los Padres National Forest San Rafael Wilderness

Manzana Creek


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