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Santa Barbara Hikes

Hiking tips



Carry lots of water even if you don't think you need to. 2 liters should do. Someone else might need to drink some because they forgot to bring enough.


Opinions differ on footwear. Stiff hiking boots aren't necessary around these parts. Running shoes/trail runners are fine. However, our trails get pretty dry and the dirt becomes like tiny little marbles to walk on. I've found you do a lot of slipping if your shoes don't have a good tread. Trail running shoes are probably the best of both worlds: light like running shoes, good tread like boots.


Avoid cotton socks. You can do the nylon liners with wool outer socks or you can just wear some nice wool or synthetic socks. Your feet will thank you for not punishing them with cotton.


Gaiters are those things that attach to your boots and go part way up your legs. They are usually for snow. But in our area they are really handy for keeping foxtails, ticks and star thistles out of your socks. Dirty Girl Gaitors are not only effective but very fashionable.

Zip-off pants

The greatest invention has to be those zip-off pants that let you zip off the legs to become shorts. They are usually lightweight nylon that dries quickly, drapes comfortable and breathes well. When it's cold in the morning they keep you warm, and when it gets too hot you just zip off the legs and voila! Shorts! And if you go backpacking you only have to carry the one pair because it's like two for the price of one. Avoid jeans unless you like misery.

Water Systems

One great way to get yourself to drink enough water is to use one of those hydration systems like the Camelback or Platypus. You can drink water without stopping to get a bottle out of your pack. If you prefer a bottle, reuse a plastic bottle that had water or Gatorade in it before. No need to keep buying a new one. They last forever.


These are the symptoms I get when I'm dehydrated:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Thirst (but not always)
  • Dark yellow pee
  • Gloomy outlook on life.
Drink plenty of water to avoid this situation. From this point it only gets worse, and you can die.


Related to dehydration is a situation called hyponatremia. This is when your body is depleted of salts. The most notable symptom is unquenchable thirst. No matter how much you drink the water doesn't satisfy. The best way to cause hyponatremia is to go on a strenuous hike or backpacking trip and carry only energy bars and other sweet foods. Take along some salty foods, too. You will be surprised how they can pick you up after some strenuous hiking. Or, another alternative are energy drinks. The best ones have minimal sugar or are sugar free. Too much sugar will actually hinder the ability for the electrolytes to help you.


Myth: You get hypothermia when it is cold outside.
Actually, you can get hypothermia on a beautiful day. All it takes is being wet from sweating, stopping to rest and having a little breeze pick up. You can get chilled very quickly. If it gets really bad you can die. People most often die from hypothermia when the ambient temperature is in the 50s.

Best way to avoid hypothermia is to not wear clothing that soaks up water and dries slowly. In otherwords, cotton is bad. Wear nylon or other synthetics, especially if it is lightweight. Wear layers (or bring them) so you can remove layers of clothing when you are hot or add layers of clothing when you are cold. A good layering system involves your hiking shirt, a thin wind-breaking layer and a thicker layer of either fleece or down or whatever you prefer. Down loses loft in rain, but it can still give you a little bit of warmth on a day hike even when wet.

First Aid

I'm not going to go on about the "10 Essentials". For the most part the main wilderness problems I've seen have to do with not having enough enough water, getting lost in the chaparral (even when you know where you are), and not knowing your limitations.

Special notice to people who work out:
Don't think that because you do the stairmaster every day that doing a strenuous hike will be easy. Many people who work out in gyms don't realize that their knees and ankles have not become accustomed to the unevenness of natural ground. Machines hardly build up enough strength for the real world. People who "work out" seem to be the ones to get into the most trouble of all (except maybe for ex-Marines) because of their knees and ankles, and because they underestimate their water needs. It's easy to forget about water when there is a drinking fountain or juice bar right there and the place is air-conditioned.


The best thing you can do if you or someone else is bitten by a snake is to calmly return to your car. All the treatments people try for snake bites, like cutting the skin and sucking out the venom or applying a tourniquet do more harm to people than the venom does. Just get back and go to the hospital.

Even better is to not touch the snake in the first place. Take care where you sit and where you stick your hands. Don't stick them under a rock without looking first. If you see a snake on the trail, just wait for him to pass. If he's rattling at you, you might want to thump the ground a bit to scare him off or toss a few rocks toward him. If he's persistent, you might have to hit him with a rock, but try not to hurt the poor fellow. He's just living his life and not actively seeking you out for a meal.


There are two types of ticks in our backcountry: Deer Ticks and Western Black-legged Ticks. The Black-legged ticks are the type that can carry Lyme disease, although they are not guaranteed to have it. They are very very small, resembling black sesame seeds with legs. Some have a read band around the base of their bodies. Others appear to be all black. Lyme disease is characterized by a bulls-eye target-like rash around the tick bite, and sometimes flu-like symptoms. If you get a rash like that, go to the doctor right away, but don't expect your doctor to know anything about Lyme disease and ticks. Most of them don't think we have it around here, but I know someone who did get it. The doctor will want to run tests, but insist that they give you antibiotics without the test, or before getting test results. The fact is that the best way to diagnose Lyme disease is by the symptoms, not the blood test, no matter what doctors will say. They have to do tests because of insurance companies. The only way to prevent the serious consequences of Lyme disease is by taking antibiotics early on. So insist on it even if they don't think it's possible to get Lyme disease. Better safe than sorry.

The other kind of tick, the deer tick, is much bigger and light to dark brown. Both types of ticks hurt when they bite, but usually not right away. You don't always know they have bitten you until you notice that you are sore. You must pluck the tick out carefully with tweezers, making certain not to leave anything behind, such as its head. It's very easy to leave its head behind, and in fact I've never been able to get a tick out without taking its body off first and then digging around for its head. Do the best you can. Some people swear by vaseline to smother the tick. He'll then back his way out to breathe. I'm not so patient. I want the tick out yesterday. Don't worry too much about the Lyme disease. I've only known one person to have it.

Basic physical injuries

Sprains, cuts, broken bones, etc. If you can walk back to the car, do so. Then go to the doctor or hospital if necessary. If you can't move, get someone else to go to a phone and call for help. Don't believe that the people at 911 will know the backcountry trails, though, because we called 911 once and the lady couldn't find Cold Springs Trail in Montecito even when we told her where it was.

Really serious problems

I hate to say this, but if someone is really in bad shape, like a heart attack, you can try all you want with the CPR, but I don't think a couple of hours of CPR is going to do any good. You can try, though.

Bees and hornets

I still have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from the time I was stung in nearly 20 places by a swarm of yellow jackets. Yellow jackets live in the ground and will defend their hive with a vengance. Run like hell if you or anybody around you is stung even once. Once you are stung one time you have been marked with a special odor the other yellow jackets can follow and they are going to get you. Unlinke honey bees, yellow jackets sting repeatedly. I think they are worse than killer bees, which I hear have arrived.


I don't know about you, but I can't get moleskin to stick to my skin. I have found the best thing is soft gauze and white athletic tape. Those very large bandaids work well, too. They fit perfectly on my heels and stick for several days. For smaller areas flexible fabric bandaids stick the best. Take care of your blister before it's a blister—when you feel the slightest hot spot. There doesn't seem to be a lot of agreement whether to pop blisters or not. My belief is that some blisters scream at you "Pop me! Pop me!" Those I pop, the rest I leave alone. To pop a blister, poke it with a needle and squeeze the liquid out.

Hot Weather Tips

If it is really hot, I mean hot enough that it is making you struggle, don't stop and rest in the sun. Don't take off your shirt. That will only make it worse. Keep walking until you find some shade or a creek. Pour some water on your head. It's really funny how people are like plants: Pour a little water on them and they perk right up. Wear a cotton shirt on a hot day. Nothing feels better than a cool breeze on a wet, cotton shirt. Be careful that it's not one of those days where it's hot and cold, though, like hot in the sun and cold when a cloud passes over. You could risk hypothermia wearing cotton on a day like that. When I say wear cotton I mean when it's in the 80s or 90s. Wear a hat that keeps the sun off, too. Some people prefer long sleeves when it's very very hot because it forms a little micro-climate inside the shirt. Others can't stand it.


They say when your feet are cold, put on a hat. You lose a lot of heat from your head (it's on top and heat rises.) Wear a hat when it's cold. Wear a hat when it's hot, too. The sun really bakes the top of your head on a hot day. A hat is like a portable piece of shade. And if there are bugs (in our area we get annoying flies), the brim of your hat can keep your mosquito head net away from your face.

Water Filtering

I have drunk the water in our backcountry right out of the creek with no ill effects. I wouldn't recommend doing this in any creek in the frontcountry. People's dogs poop in the water all the time. I wouldn't drink water from the Santa Ynez River, either. People's kids poop and pee and leave their diapers in the water all the time. Way back in the wilderness it is probably ok to drink the water out of the stream (I do), but you might bring treatment chemicals or a filter in case it's late in the season and the water is looking a tad green and scummy. But if the choice is between giardia and dehydration, go ahead and drink the water. You can always take some antibiotics when you get home. Oh, and that horrible taste? Sorry, but even mountain spring water tastes terrible in Santa Barbara. Too much mineral content. Aquamira drops, only available in California online, can improve the flavor.

Poison Oak

What it looks like
Try to wash it off immediately after contact. If this isn't possible, wash up with dishwashing detergent when you get home.

If you do get it it will come approximately two days after exposure. You can obtain enough relief to fall asleep at night by soaking or showering in the hottest water you can possibly stand. The hot water feels like it's making it worse, but it really helps you release the histamines that make you itch, and provide some relief. I swear by it. The relief will last a couple of hours so you can fall asleep.

If you get poisonoak on your face or get a really bad case of it, go to the hospital and get a shot of steroids or some steroid pills. Now this treatment really works!

You can get poison oak by rubbing against its leaves when it has leaves, and from its bare stems in the winter. You can inhale it if you burn it and get it in your lungs. (Go to the hospital.) Probably the most frequent way to get it is to touch dogs on the trails, because they tend to romp in it and get it on their fur. The most surprising way (and probably the worst way) you can get poison oak is through contact with water after a storm. I have gotten poison oak like a bathtub ring around my legs from dangling my legs in a natural hot spring. You probably won't get poison oak from our local creeks unless it is after a heavy rain, in which case the water won't be very safe to go near anyway. (I soaked in that hot spring on a rainy day.)

Not Getting Lost

It is surprisingly easy to get lost on local trails. The number 1 way people get lost, and therefore have to be rescued, is by deciding it would be easy to bushwhack through the chaparral. Do not do this. You can't get through the chaparral. If you get lost turn exactly back 180º and retrace your steps. This sounds so obvious, but it is surprising how difficult it is to remember to do. If you turn around and go back, you can maybe find the little fork in the road where you went wrong. Usually it is only a few steps back that you have made a mistake. But there are some places where you won't notice you went the wrong way for quite some distance and have to back track quite a bit. Whatever you do, do NOT NOT NOT try to head through the chaparral. The chaparral is the reason why we have trails around here.

Many of our trails are primitive (not official) or overgrown. The trail may be very hard to follow because it is small or travels through rocks. Look for where the brush has been cut by loppers or a saw. Look for cut branches lying on the ground. If they are piled up high they may be indicating not to go that way. If there are just a few lying here and there, that means someone has cut the trail there.

Look for worn places on rocks and trees. People's shoes sometimes leave a faint black scuff mark, and hands and boots eventually wear rocks and trees slightly smoother.

Look for “ducks.” Rocks piled on each other. Sometimes these are subtle.

Look across the creek for the trail before you cross. Otherwise you will likely head the wrong way.

Look for the mountain ranges. In Santa Barbara, they run east-west.


Some people swear by them. A compass is helpful if you can see landmarks from where you are. A GPS is a bit more useful, as long as you can get a lock on enough satellites. Nevertheless, even if you can pinpoint your current location, who cares about longitude and latitude or compass directions if because of the chaparral, or a solid wall of yucca you can't get there from here? A GPS or compass can help point you to where the trail might be if you are lost, but the trail is usually the only way you are going to get anywhere.

Certainly bring a map and compass or GPS, but use it to stay on the trail.

Web Site Info Tips

Hike Ratings

I try not to rate any hikes because individual hiking abilities vary so much. If I say a hike is easy, it might be easy to me but very very strenuous to you. Santa Barbara is not a flat place. The only really easy hikes are on the beach. I include miles when I can, but even miles don't mean anything. There is a huge difference in what a mile feels like depending on the circumstances. If it's the 16th mile it sure feels different than the first one. If it's 95º outside, miles feel a whole lot longer than when it's 65º. A mile on the Rattlensake trail feels a lot easier than a mile on the Rattlesnake Connector trail. So, try to choose your hike based on what you want to see rather than how many miles I say it is. You can always turn around at any point and make the hike a little shorter. Many times there are ways to make a hike a little longer, too, if that is what you want.

If you really want some hike ratings, you're invited to rate them right on this website. Go here and tell us all about your experience on the hike!


I've got plenty of recommendations if you are just visiting Santa Barbara:

Rattlesnake Trail Best Choice
Tunnel Trail More Strenuous
Inspiration Pt. Nice view, but nowhere to sit
7 Falls Rockhopping and swimming hole
3 Pools Rockhopping and better swimming hole, but much harder to get to
Cathedral Peak Super strenuous, fabulous spot at the top
Montecito Peak Great choice for strenuous with a real summit
West Fork Cold Springs Trail Check out Tangerine Falls
Romero Canyon Less rude mountain bikers, more real mountain bikers (the kind that ride uphill), and super pretty creek
Red Rock Favorite local swimming place
19 Oaks Good for short backpack trips
Knapp's Castle (for a sunset picnic) Another best view with a short walk

Hike listings

There are more trails around here than this website lists. I just list the hikes I have enjoyed. In fact, this website isn't really a catalog of trails as it is a category of hikes. By that I mean that a hike is an adventure you can have walking on one or more trails on a single day. Mostly the site lists day hikes, but there are a few backpacking trips listed, too.

You are more than welcome to point people to other hikes that aren't listed on Santa Barbara Hikes. Just put them here.

Local climate and terraine

We are lucky that we have such good weather around here (except for the fog). In general, when you hike in the frontcountry, which is any hike in the mountains overlooking the city, the weather will be pretty similar to the weather downtown. If it is foggy downtown you are likely to emerge out of the fog into the sun. Sometimes there are wet clouds and wind at the summit. If you see any clouds hovering at the tops of the mountains, bring something warm for the summit.

If you plan to hike over the mountains in the backcountry or the San Rafael wilderness you should know that in the late spring, summer and most of the fall it's likely to be much hotter and sunnier. It could be 70º downtown and 100º at Red Rock or in the San Rafaels. In the late fall to early spring it is likely to be much cooler in the backcountry. Bring appropriate clothing and gear with you just in case. And always remember that in the Santa Barbara area it really doesn't matter what month it is; it's possible to have a really hot day any time of year.


The web site is designed so that you can find what you want online, and if you want to bring it with you on a hike, you print out what you need. To elimiated waste, when you print a page, the printed version of the page will look different from the on-screen version. The nagivation and colors, which are not needed for a printed page, will be removed. (If it doesn't work like this for you, then your browser may not support the technology that facilitates this.)

Sometimes, however, you might want to print out the web page and keep the layout the same as what you see on screen. In order to do this, you may need to take a screenshot of the page, paste the screenshot into a word processing or other program, and print the image from there.