Friday, May 3, 2013

Hiking Santa Barbara

Easy paths at the Carp bluffs
Santa Barbara presents a diverse topography for hikes, from ocean bluffs to front country to the rugged back country. These three hikes give you assorted scenic vistas, a moderate workout and great photo ops. Plus none are too far from downtown. A note on hiking here in Santa Barbara, and all along the Central Coast: Yes, we have poison oak so always be cautions when going off trail. It’s called poison oak but it can’t kill you but rest assured, as a native Californian and having had my share of it – it ain’t fun. Even as of this writing I contracted some on my left leg while hiking in Big Sur. Always bring water, hat, cell phone, and sunscreen when you hike. My small pack also includes a knife, and nuts for protein, just in case. So get packed and get going!
The views from the bluffs

The Carpinteria Bluffs and Seal Rookery is less hike and more easy stroll on soft dirt paths, and the bluffs are a great beach excursion across eucalyptus-studded groves heading to the water. It’s only a mile out and a mile back, but this coastal walk is perfect for any age and fitness group, in fact the elevation gain is like 2 feet. The scent of chaparral meets you as you pull into the parking lot with low grasses and shrubs in front of you. There is also access down to the beach, however part of the beach is closed off December 1 through May 31 during birthing and nursing season for the harbor seals who seem to think mating in public is just fine (showoffs). While there, they are noisy but fun to watch. Located right off the freeway this is immensely easy to get to and gets you to views of both the ocean and the mountains and gets you to the water’s edge while still feeling like you’re in a preserve. That feeling is briefly interrupted by crossing the train tracks, but as long as there are no actual trains in your way, it’s all good. You might see whales and dolphins, certainly plenty of sea birds (not on the train, on the hike). To get there exit Bailard Ave. from Highway 101 north or south and head to the ocean. There’s a small parking lot right in front of you.
The views from Tin Can Meadow

Front Country
Rattlesnake Canyon is one of the more popular hikes and is fairly easy, and no, you won’t come across any rattlesnakes since it was named for its serpentine canyon. This is a well-marked trail and is less than 4 miles in total. You’ll pass by pools, streams and eventually come out the top of a small hill with panoramic views to the ocean and the Channel Islands. From Los Canelos Road near the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden it’s just over 1 mile to the second stone bridge where there is ample parking before and after the bridge on the road pullouts. Starting on the trail it feels like you’ve been jipped – it’s hot and dry and uninteresting. After 10 minutes on the trail there’s a short incline where you encounter two oak trees - go left (going right is a short trail, nothing exciting). 
Never know what's  you'll find on Rattlesnake trail
You soon hook up with the creek in a wooded area then cross the creek and head up into sheer diversity. You'll likely see grey squirrels and wild bunnies (not mean, just wild). It will take you 40 minutes at a moderate pace to reach Tin Can Meadow, which is a great turnaround point. There’s a flat rock there where you can sit for a while, surrounded by tall grass and absorb the beauty before heading back. There is a terrific diversity of stuff here from multiple stream crossings to wooded areas to open narrow trails, moss covered boulders, pine and oak trees, low scrub and thick trees. With an elevation gain of 900 feet it’s also a decent workout.
The rocks, ocean and Islands from Lizard's Mouth
Back Country
Lizard’s Mouth (West Camino Cielo Road) For a completely different experience, head to Lizard’s Mouth, so named for the unusual sandstone outcroppings – though not sure how a lizard affected this. On the south facing slopes of the mountain with panoramic views of all of Santa Barbara and Channel Islands (and quite possibly China…well maybe not) this a sea of wondrous boulders, curvilinear smooth sandstone, as if sculpted by hand, windswept and eerie. Take Highway 154 up from Santa Barbara 7 miles to West Camino Cielo and turn left. Follow the road 4 miles to the Winchester Gun Club entrance. Turn around here and on your right had side, about 100 yards back down the road you’ll see a graffiti sprayed brown wooden sign, about 20 feet off the road. There are no real paths here you just wander in between large boulders and on top of sandstone flats. Some boulders you can walk underneath and you swear they might collapse on you. It almost looks like a movie set and Lizard’s Mouth has an otherworldly moonscape feel to it. It’s easy to get lost so keep an eye on where you came from. Small trails head out to, and in-between, the rocks, some with small crevices and near cave-like entrances. It’s pretty much rock hopping out here. It's a little disconcerting to hear the gunfire from the Winchester Gun Club up the road at first, but you're perfectly safe. Weekdays are better as it’s less crowded.
For a totally different hike, check out my post about the Arroyo Hondo Preserve

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