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SANTA BARBARA HIKING GUIDE | The Top 17 Hiking Spots in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara hiking spots (2)

With its towering mountains and stunning coastline, Santa Barbara offers some of California’s most beautiful day hikes.  Santa Barbara is the place to be if you want breathtaking views. I know breathtaking can be overrated, but you know hiking can take your breath away. Literally. Well, that comes from someone who pants like a dog on every hike she has done.  Hiking through the Santa Ynez Mountains and seeing the city, ocean, and the Channel Islands from above is an experience you won’t soon forget. The views are incredible, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore nature. Oak-studded canyons and meadows full of wildflowers make for a perfect day out. So whether you’re looking for a solo hike or got peer-pressured to explore some of the most beautiful scenery California offers, Santa Barbara is the place for you. These are some of the best Santa Barbara hiking spots. Enjoy!

Santa Barbara hiking spots (2)

The Hot Springs Trail

If you are in Santa Barbara and need a quick nature fix, look no further than the Hot Springs Trail, one of the top Santa Barbara hiking spots. This trail will take you to some of the most amazing natural hot springs that Santa Barbara has to offer.

The trail to the springs is a gradual incline, so be prepared for a bit of a workout. But the effort is well worth it when you reach the multi-layered forest oasis with heated pools.

I visited on a Tuesday afternoon with a crowd, but I could still find my own personal spa. If you’re looking for a truly relaxing experience, I recommend making the complete loop. But if you’re just looking to dip in the springs, they’re not too far from the start of the trail.

You will surely enjoy your time at the Hot Springs Trail.

If you’re looking for a workout and want to be surrounded by the best that Santa Barbara offers, the trail to the Springs is undoubtedly for you. The natural jacuzzis at the Springs are a fantastic sight and a great way to relax after a long hike. The loop is not too difficult and definitely worth it for the fantastic views and experience. Whether you want to make the full loop or just visit the Springs, this is an excellent trail for anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors.

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular hiking trails, and for a good reason. The trail culminates at a small summit with gorgeous 180-degree views of the city, ocean, islands, and the Santa Ynez Mountains. This 3.75-mile, out-and-back, moderate trail is an excellent hike for visitors to Santa Barbara, as it provides a lovely overview of the entire area.

The shortest version of the trail begins at Tunnel Road. It continues along Tunnel Trail to Jesusita Trail, ascending about 800 feet in elevation to the summit. Besides the breathtaking views from the summit, highlights of this hike include the wide-open canyon views, creek crossings, and distinctive sandstone rock crags rising from the rugged landscape. Once you reach the summit, linger for a while and enjoy the beautiful Santa Barbara views before tackling the return descent.

The best time of day to attempt this hike is later in the afternoon, when the light turns to a rich honey-hue, and the trail offers more shade. This is a dog-friendly trail and it’s popular with local trail runners and mountain bikers.

Note that parking is limited at the trailhead, and tickets are frequently issued for parking violations. You can access the trailhead at Tunnel Road, off Mission Canyon Road.

Rattlesnake Canyon 

Rattlesnake Canyon is a great destination for many reasons. Not only is it home to some of the most beautiful views in the area, but it’s also a great workout. The Connector trail to Tunnel Trail and East Camino Cielo provides access to the trailhead via Las Canoas Road, and it’s a popular spot for local rock climbers and hang gliders. The elevation gain is just over 1,600 feet, so it’s definitely a workout. But the views are worth it! 

Romero Canyon Trail

Looking for a great trail near Santa Barbara, California? Check out the Romero Canyon Trail. This 9.7-km loop trail is generally considered to be of moderate difficulty and usually takes around 3 h 17 min to complete. However, since it is such a popular destination for activities like hiking, mountain biking, and trail running, you may encounter other people while exploring the area. The trail is open year-round, so it’s always a great time to visit. Additionally, dogs are welcome on the trail as long as they are kept on a leash. So come on out and enjoy the beauty of nature with your furry friend by your side. 

Seven Falls Trail 

There are several different routes you can take to get to Seven Falls, but the most popular is the East Fork Trail. This trailhead is located at the east fork of Mission Creek, and the trail follows the creek upstream for about 1.5 miles before reaching the Seven Falls area. The trail then continues another mile or so to La Cumbre Peak, where there are stunning views of the Santa Barbara coastline.

The East Fork Trail is a moderate hike, and it should take you about 3-4 hours to complete the round trip. You’ll enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way, including towering redwoods, peaceful meadows, and cascading waterfalls. There are also several great places to take a break and have a snack or just enjoy the views.

When you reach the Seven Falls area, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the seven different falls that plunge into the pool below. This is a great place to take some pictures and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

After taking in the views at Seven Falls, you can continue to La Cumbre Peak, where you’ll be treated to even more amazing views of the Santa Barbara coastline. The peak is about 1,500 feet above sea level, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Catalina Island.

Jesusita Trail

Jesusita Trail is a moderate to strenuous 7-mile hike in Santa Barbara, California. The trailhead begins at the Cater water treatment plant off of San Roque Road. It ends at Inspiration Point, an overlook with stunning city views. The trail is mostly shaded and passes through riparian environs before ascending into lower chaparral. Along the way, hikers will experience a variety of landscapes and wildlife. Jesusita Trail is a great hike for those looking for a challenge and beautiful scenery.

This hike is moderately steep at times, so wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water. 

Cold Spring Trail

Cold Spring Trail is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, as it provides stunning views of Montecito and the surrounding area. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, making it perfect for hikers of all levels.

One of the great things about Cold Spring Trail is that it can be accessed from a number of different points, making it easy to tailor your hike to your fitness level and time constraints. If you’re looking for a shorter hike, simply turn around once you reach the power lines. For a longer hike, continue on to East Camino Cielo Road and explore the backcountry beyond.

No matter how you choose to hike Cold Spring Trail, you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful scenery and fresh mountain air. So what are you waiting for? Head out and explore this amazing trail today!

Santa Barbara hiking guide

Tangerine Falls Trail 

Tangerine Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Santa Barbara, CA. The falls are located in Cold Springs Canyon in the Los Padres National Forest. The falls are best viewed after a spring rain when they are at their peak flow. However, they can dry out for much of the year. The falls are accessible via a 2.5-mile hike with 875 feet of elevation gain. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow.

The hike to Tangerine Falls is a great way to see some of the best scenery Santa Barbara offers, including the waterfall, the creek, the ocean views, and even some off-trail rock hopping and scrambling.

Arroyo Burro Beach Trail

Arroyo Burro Beach is a beautiful place to go for a hike, offering stunning views of the coast. The Arroyo Burro Beach Trail is a great option for a moderate hike, with options to make it more challenging if desired. From the parking lot, follow Oak Grove Trail along the north side of the Arroyo Burro Estuary. Cross over Mesa Creek on a bridge, and then follow Douglas Family Preserve Trail as it bends to the west and then moves down coast over the sea-side cliffs. This section of the hike offers incredible views of the ocean.

Eventually, the trail will end at Medcliff Road. From here, you can turn around and head back the way you came, or take a different path northward alongside the neighboring houses. Eventually, the path will bend to the left and you’ll come across the original path just above the bridge over Mesa Creek. Turn right here to cross over Mesa Creek before turning left to return to the Arroyo Burro Beach parking lot. This looped hike is a great option for a moderate hike with stunning coastal views.

The Saddle Rock Trail

If you’re looking for a short but sweet hike with amazing views, look no further than the Saddle Rock Trail. This trail, located in the Thomas Fire closure area, has recently been reopened to the public. Use caution while hiking, as there are loose soils and rolling rocks present. The trailhead can be found by diverging from the McMenemy Trail 1.5 miles along its path. From there, the trail will take you north to Heart Flat, a vista point with a large heart-shaped rock formation. The trail then continues north briefly before ending at the Edison Catway Road. Although short, this hike is worth taking for its incredible views! 

The San Ysidro Trail 

The San Ysidro Trail is a great hike for those looking for a little bit of everything. With beautiful waterfall views, a challenging incline, and plenty of nature to take in along the way, this trail is perfect for a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. Be sure to bring plenty of water, as there is no water available along the trail.

If you’re interested in a longer hike, the San Ysidro Trail can be combined with the Old Pueblo Trail to create a loop hike. This option will add an additional 5 miles to your hike, but it is a great way to see even more of what this trail has to offer.

McMenemy Trail 

This trail begins as an off-shoot of the San Ysidro Trail about 6/10 of a mile after the San Ysidro Trail begins from its trailhead on Mountain Drive. Following the McMenemy Trail from this juncture, head west and the trail will take you over the creek and through eucalyptus woodland before ascending up a series of switchbacks to the McMenemy Bench. At this point, there’s an intersection with the Girard Trail, which heads to the north. Continue along the McMenemy Trail by continuing straight (to the west).

The McMenemy Trail then descends into and climbs out of a small canyon to reach a ridge top where it hits a juncture with the Saddle Rock Trail roughly 1.4 miles into the hike. Hike for another 4/10 of a mile as you descend Hot Springs Canyon’s east wall over a few switchbacks. You’ll then run into a T-intersection with the Hot Springs Trail. At this point, the McMenemy Trail comes to its end. If you want, you can link up with other trails nearby to extend your hike.

Santa Ynez Mountain Range
Santa Ynez Mountain Range

Cathedral Peak

If you’re looking for a challenge and some of the most spectacular views in Santa Barbara, look no further than Cathedral Peak. This strenuous hike will take you up a steep and sandy hillside to the top of a several hundred foot high sandstone rock spire. From the summit, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.  

From the trailhead, the route to Cathedral Peak follows an old roadbed for the first 0.7 miles. This initial section of the hike is quite strenuous as it switchbacks relentlessly up the side of Mission Canyon. After reaching a saddle, the trail then levels out and becomes much more moderate. For the next mile or so, hikers will enjoy lovely views of the canyon below as they make their way along the ridgeline.

At around 2.2 miles, the trail reaches the base of Cathedral Peak. From here, hikers will have to scramble up a steep and sandy hillside for about 0.1 miles before reaching the summit. The views from the top are absolutely stunning and well worth the effort required to get there. To the south, one can see all the way down to the Pacific Ocean. To the north and east, the Santa Ynez Mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see.

The hike back to the trailhead is mostly downhill and should take hikers around 2-3 hours to complete.

The Lizard’s Mouth

Looking for a challenging hike with a perfect picnic spot and breathtaking views? The Lizard’s Mouth hike in Santa Barbara is a top choice. This quarter-mile out-and-back hike is one of the more difficult hikes in Santa Barbara, but it gets you up high and offers plenty of Instagram-worthy photo ops.

You gain most of the elevation on the drive to the trailhead off West Camino Cielo Road. The road winds up to the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains, with beautiful views over Santa Barbara. Once you hit the trail, the elevation gain is only about 50 feet.

This is not an easy hike. You will have to scramble over boulders, and the trail can be steep and slippery. But the views are worth it.

When you arrive at the famous Lizard’s Mouth, you’ll know how it earned its name. Spread out your picnic blanket, snap some photos, and soak up the sweeping views over the mountains. Sunset is one of the most popular times to do this hike, when the rocks blush pink in the rosy light.

Stevens Park 

Stevens Park is a great place to take a family hike, with plenty of opportunities for kids to explore and play. The park also has a number of amenities that make it a perfect spot for a picnic or BBQ. There are public restrooms and picnic tables that can be reserved for private events.

The 25-acre park runs up San Roque canyon and is home to a number of picturesque hiking trails. These trails criss-cross a creek and connect to the historic trails of the Santa Ynez Range, making Stevens Park a great place to explore the natural beauty of Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Hikers of all levels will find a trail to suit their needs at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where they can explore 78 acres of natural woodland and take in over 1,000 types of native California plants and trees. The easier trails wind through a meadow and desert garden, while the more challenging Pritchett Trail ascends the steep canyon wall west of the creek, passing through a woodland of oaks. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a more vigorous hike, you’ll find it at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. For its easy relaxed trail, this garden is one of the popular Santa Barbara hiking spots.

Ennisbrook Preserve

With its close proximity to the town of Montecito, the Ennisbrook Preserve is a perfect spot for a peaceful nature hike. The looping trail is only 1.85 miles long, making it perfect for an afternoon stroll with family or friends. And because the preserve is located in the woods, it’s a great place to escape the heat on a hot summer day.

The Ennisbrook Preserve is also a great place for wildlife watching. The preserve is home to many ancient oak and sycamore trees, which provide shelter for a variety of animals. So keep your eyes peeled as you hike – you never know what kind of creatures you might see!

The Franklin Trail 

Hiking the Franklin Trail is a great way to get away from it all and experience some of the best views that Carpinteria has to offer. The trail is divided into three phases, with the first phase being the most gentle and ideal for families with older children. The second and third phases are more challenging, making them perfect for a day-long hike or an overnight backpacking trip. No matter which phase you choose, you’re sure to be rewarded with stunning views of the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.

Enjoy our Santa Barbara hiking spots? Check out our California Travel Guide, it covers everything from hiking spots, beaches, restaurants, staycations.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com. For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. […] for more things to do in Santa Barbara? Check out our hiking guide in Santa Barbara for an adrenaline-pact trip to […]

  2. […] most beautiful scenery California offers, Santa Barbara is the place for you. These are some of the best Santa Barbara hiking spots. Read […]

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