Posted by: James Wapotich | August 27, 2018

Trail Quest: Hot Springs and Buena Vista Canyons

The Thomas Fire, which started near Santa Paula on Dec. 4 of last year, burned west through the mountains behind Ojai and Ventura. It then crossed State Route 33, and burned along both sides of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

On the coastal side of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the fire burned west until it reached the burn scars of the 2008 Tea Fire and 2009 Jesusita Fire, where it essentially stalled out and was contained.

As a result of the fire, all of the trails within the burn area were closed until further notice. On Jan. 9, winter rains brought debris flows and flooding, further damaging the trails.

The Forest Service lifted the closure on all trails within the National Forest affected by the fire on May 24. However, portions of trails on land owned and managed by both the City and County of Santa Barbara remained closed, including most of the lower trailheads. Since then, the City and County have reopened their sections as well, with the exception of the trails in Cold Spring Canyon, which remain closed, including West Fork Cold Spring Trail from Gibraltar Road.

Between Cold Spring and Romero Canyons is a network of trails, most of which have been reopened. These trails, combined with Edison access roads, provide a great way to craft a variety of loop hikes and explore the front country side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. All of the unpaved Edison access roads have been cleared and are in great shape, and many of the lower trails have also been cleared or worked on as well.

Trails for these different loop hikes can be accessed from Hot Springs, San Ysidro, and Buena Vista trailheads.

To reach Hot Springs trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south and exit at Hot Springs Road. Turn left, and continue though the roundabout and follow Hot Springs Road up to East Mountain Drive. Turn left onto East Mountain Drive, and continue towards the trailhead.

From the trailhead, Hot Springs Trail follows an easement through private property for the first half-mile, passing along the way an information kiosk splattered with mud from the debris flow, which provides a sense of how high the debris flow was.

Although Hot Springs Canyon is not as deeply scoured as San Ysidro or Romero Canyons, the damage from the debris flow is still evident. Further up the trail one can see where a private bridge across the creek was swept away. Please respect private property.

The trail follows the creek upstream, passing one last developed property before joining an unpaved access road and arriving at the first trail juncture, which is still signed. Straight ahead, is the trail that follows the creek up towards the site of the old Hot Springs Hotel. Across the creek, the trail branches. To the left is Hot Springs Trail and to the right is McMenemy Trail, which leads over to San Ysidro Canyon.

Hot Springs Trail follows an unpaved access road that traces the eastern edge of Hot Springs Canyon. The road roughly follows the original road built in 1862, to access the hot springs. From the road, it’s easy to see the burn damage in the canyon. Many of the oaks are scarred, but sprouting back. Covering the hills are morning glory, and growing back on the hillsides are chamise, ceanothus, and laurel sumac.

About a mile from the trailhead, Hot Springs Trail crosses the east-west running Edison access road. From here it’s a short way to the old Hot Springs Hotel site.

The first 3-story hotel was built here during the 1880s. In 1921, it burned to the ground during a forest fire and was rebuilt. In 1964, the Coyote Fire burned through the canyon, again destroying all the buildings, which this time were not rebuilt.

What remains is the stone foundation, including a set of stairs leading up from the trail to the top of the foundation. Past the hotel site, the trail continues up the canyon to where the hot springs flow out into the creek.

From the hotel site, a return hike can be made along the loop trail that leads back down the creek. The trails favors the west side of the creek and is relatively easy to follow.

An alternate return loop can be made along Saddle Rock Trail, which is reached from the hotel site, by continuing east along the Edison access road or catway.

Edison Catway connects from Hot Springs Canyon over to San Ysidro Canyon. About a half-mile from Hot Springs Trail, the road arrives at the first turnoff for the transmission towers and the unsigned top of Saddle Rock Trail. To the east, roughly a quarter of a mile, are the next towers over and the top of Girard Trail.

Saddle Rock Trail follows the ridgeline between Hot Springs and Oak Canyons. Coming down from Edison Catway, the trail quickly arrives at a flat mesa with a large sandstone outcrop and offers some great views out across Montecito and Santa Barbara.

The half-mile trail is at times rocky and steep, but easy to follow, as it threads along the ridge, passing through outcrops of coldwater sandstone. Growing back along the trail are chamise, manzanita, and laurel sumac. The trail then arrives at the unsigned intersection with McMenemy Trail, which is marked with a lone charred oak tree.

McMenemy Trail connects from Hot Springs Canyon over towards San Ysidro Canyon, and essentially parallels Edison Catway, traversing the lower portions of the Santa Ynez Mountains east to west. McMenemy Trail is in great shape having been recently been worked by volunteers, along with Saddle Rock, Girard, and Old Pueblo Trails.

McMenemy Trail is an enjoyable hike, in spite of the burn damage, as it winds its way across the front of the mountains, crossing Oak Creek before arriving at the intersection with Girard Trail. Near the intersection is a commemorative bench, honoring Colonel Logan T. McMenemy, who deeded the trail to the community in 1962.

Girard Trail is a half-mile connector trail that leads up to Edison Catway. The trail traces the western side of San Ysidro Canyon and offers great views out across the canyon. Halfway up the trail is a short side trail leading down to an overlook. At the overlook is a commemorative plaque honoring Edward “Bud” Girard and his work to help preserve our local trails. Girard was also instrumental, along with other community members, in helping to reopen Franklin Trail behind Carpinteria.

From the intersection with Girard Trail, McMenemy Trail continues east, descending down into San Ysidro Canyon, where it meets San Ysidro Trail. From here, it’s a roughly a half-mile up the canyon to Edison Catway for other loop options.

A short way down San Ysidro Trail is the beginning of Old Pueblo Trail, which leads over towards Buena Vista Canyon.

Buena Vista Canyon can be visited as part of a separate 3.5-mile loop hike that connects with San Ysidro Canyon.

To reach Buena Vista trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south, and exit at San Ysidro Road. Continue north to East Valley Road and turn right, following East Valley Road to Park Lane. Turn left onto Park Lane and continue to the intersection with East Mountain Drive. To the left, East Mountain Drive continues past Wiman trailhead and ends at San Ysidro trailhead. To the right, Park Lane continues to Buena Vista Trailhead.

Buena Vista Trail leads up Buena Vista Canyon, quickly climbing away from the creek and offering views out across the canyon. The canyon was also damaged during the debris flow and flooding, similar to Hot Springs Canyon. The trail is in fair condition and drops back down into the creek. Here, mud splattered on one of the distinctive boulders along the trail gives a sense of how high the debris flow was.

About a half-mile from the trailhead, Buena Vista trail branches. To the right, a connector trail climbs east out of the canyon where it meets the Edison access road coming up from Romero Canyon. To the left, another connector trail climbs west out of the canyon where it meets the Edison access road coming up from San Ysidro Canyon; the trail is overgrown with wild mustard.

From San Ysidro Canyon, continue down San Ysidro Trail to the beginning of Old Pueblo Trail for the loop hike back to Buena Vista Canyon.

Old Pueblo Trail is in good shape. The mile long trail follows an easement above the more developed properties bordering the mountains. Please stay on the trail. The trail meets Wiman Trail before joining Park Lane for the last leg back to Buena Vista trailhead.

Wiman Trail is a short quarter of a mile connector trail from East Mountain Drive that follows a small, shaded side creek up towards Old Pueblo Trail.

Regardless of how far you hike, each of these different trails and connectors provide a way to explore our local mountains.

This article originally appeared in section A of the August 20th, 2018 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press

Buena Vista Canyon Trail Thomas Fire Santa Barbara Montecito hike Los Padres National Forest

Buena Vista Canyon is seen from the trail

Buena Vista Canyon Trail debris flow Thomas Fire Santa Barbara Montecito hike Los Padres National Forest

Familiar rock feature shows the height of the debris flow

Hot Springs Canyon Trail Thomas Fire Santa Barbara Montecito hike Los Padres National Forest

Hot Springs Canyon is seen from the trail

McMenemy Trail Thomas Fire Santa Barbara Montecito hike Los Padres National Forest

The Santa Ynez Mountains frame a view along McMenemy Trail

Saddle Rock Trail Thomas Fire Santa Barbara Montecito hike Los Padres National Forest

Saddle Rock Trail


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