Gibraltar Dam and the Mercury Mine.
[out of 5]
|For:||Very long, exposed to the sun, some hills if you go to the mine. Rates a 3 if you just go to the dam.|
Hiking to the Dam is mostly hiking along a fire road, but the views are worth it. The mine is an interesting historical curiosity. Before it was cleaned up, I imagined Twilight Zone episodes being filmed there. The mine sits perched above Gibraltar Reservoir, making it a pleasant, lakeside destination for lunch.
You will need an Adventure PassPass to park your car in the area.
The hike to Red Rock is only about 1 mile or less, but you will get your feet wet sloshing through the creek.
The dam is a 6 mile round trip hike, and the mercury mine is a 10 mile round trip hike. You can bicycle these hikes, too.
Gibraltar Dam and the Mercury Mine
From the Mission, corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara...
Get on US 101 going northbound by taking Laguna St. to Mission St. (toward the ocean).
Turn right on Mission St.
Follow Mission St. to the freeway and take US 101 north.
Take the Lake Cachuma/Highway 154 exit. Follow signs to Highway 154 and turn right on to 154.
Head up the mountains and down the other side.
Turn right on Paradise Rd. There is a brown recreation sign before the turn.
Follow Paradise Rd. crossing the river several times and passing several campgrounds and picnic areas. There is a ranger station along the way where you may be able to purchase an Adventure Pass, and one or two kiosks that can sell you the pass, too. You will need an Adventure Pass to park your car.
After approximately 10 miles, park your car after crossing the river. This is as far as you can go on Paradise Rd.
The trail begins at the metal gate across the dirt road adjacent to the river and the parking area.
Gibraltar Dam and the Mercury Mine
The trailhead begins at the end of Paradise Rd. at the parking lot for Red Rock.
At the west end of the lot and up the hill just slightly is a fire road with a metal gate across it. It's a little bit hidden from the lot. You would find it if you drove into the lot straight across the creek and kept going straight. Pass through this gate and head uphill along the road.
At about 3/4 mile there is a small marker and a trail that makes a nice shortcut from the road. If you miss it you won't get lost. You can take the road or the trail.
The trail meets the road again at two miles (measured along the road.) At this high point on the road you can see up the canyon to the reservoir and the dam. Continue down the road.
At 2.75 miles there is a junction with Devil's Canyon Trail. This is a very beautiful trail. You are encouraged to follow it. There is a lovely creek with impressive, small waterfalls. But Devil's Canyon Trail is not the way to the dam or the mine.
To reach the dam, continue along the road uphill. The dam is just under the 4 mile mark. There are some picnic tables up near the Quonset huts for having lunch.
To reach the mine, continue past the dam along the road, heading toward a ranger's house.
Pass the house and continue on the road to a junction with Angostura Pass Rd. Angostura Pass Rd. goes up the mountain to meet East Camino Cielo Rd. at the junction with Tunnel Trail. The junction of the road to the mine and Angostura Pass Rd. is marked by a dumpster, a tank and a metal gate. Pass through the gate and begin downhill to the lake.
The trail winds around the lake, going from dry and dusty to shady and cool on the north side.
At the 5 mile mark you reach the mercury mine, which was abandoned in the 70s. Recently it was cleaned up. It used to be an old ruin which you could explore. This was quite dangerous, but very interesting, with old junk cars and equipment lying around. Now the mine is behind a fence, but it is still very interesting to see. It makes a nice lunch spot.
If you are interested in a much longer hike, you can continue along the road, turning left at the next junction in the road ,following the road a few miles until you reach a trail junction. This is the Gibraltar Trail and will take you to the Cold Springs Trail. Turn left at the Cold Springs trail to go to Mono Camp. Turn right to go to Forbush Flats. But this is a very long way for a day hike. As much as 18 miles round trip or more to get back to your car. And you'd best bring a topo map.
To return to your car from the mine, reverse your route.
Below the dam you can opt to cross the river and follow the trail instead of the road. But you will get your feet wet. No way around that. The river trail is easy to follow and takes you by a lot of nice swimming holes.
You know you are near to your car again when you reach Red Rock with its distinctive red rock cliff. The car is 1.5 miles further.