9 Trails, 2 Roads Loop
[out of 5]
|For:||Very strenuous and long, 5792 feet elevation gain|
Please don't let the rating scare you. This hike is mainly here to show you a whole host of loops and connectors you can use to make different hikes connecting several frontcountry trails.
Once a year the Sierra Club would do something they called the Ultimate Hike, a 17.5 mile hike linking 9 frontcountry trails. The same day, a bunch of runners would do the same route called the 9 Trails, but they would do a 35-mile there-and-back. The hike would connect nine trails from Jesusita Trail all the way to Romero Trail. In 2009, because the Tea and Jesusita Fires had burned many of the trails, and Jesusita and Tunnel Trails were still closed at the time when the hike/run was due to happen, an alternate was devised by both the Sierra Club and the 9 Trails runners, but not the same route. This 9 Trails, 2 Roads Loop is the Sierra Club’s alternate.
The loop begins at the Cold Spring trailhead, proceeds up to East Camino Cielo, then goes down the San Ysidro Trail. From there, the route follows the Edison Road, takes a detour to Buena Vista Trail, climbs the 15 switchbacks back to the Edison Road, and uses a connector to meet the Romero Trail. The Romero Trail is followed a short distance to its trailhead, then the route follows Bella Vista Road and Park Lane to the Old Pueblo Trail. The Old Pueblo Trail leads to the McMenemy Trail which leads to the N. Vincent/Saddlerock trail. The route briefly touches the Edison Road once more, then climbs through the bamboo tunnel of doom to the hot pools of Hot Springs Canyon. This is private property and so there is an option to avoid being a law-breaker and sticking to the Edison Road. The hiker rejoins Cold Springs, taking an alternate route some people call the Hippie House Trail that returns you to the Cold Spring trailhead.
The hike is about 15 to 18 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 5792 ft. (My line drawn on the map was about 15 miles long, but by a GPS someone carried during the hike, it measured 17.9 miles.) However, the entire loop need not be done.
If you examine the map, which is actually an approximation in some areas because the topo lacks the trails, you can see that other alternate loops could be done. You could choose to loop only the two Cold Springs routes. You could choose to loop Cold Springs, San Ysidro, McMenemy, Saddlerock and Hot Springs. You could loop San Ysidro, Edison Road, Buena Vista and Old Pueblo Trail. You could loop Romero, Edison Road, Buena Vista and Bella Vista/Park Lane.
My map may be missing some of the actual trails, but Bryan Conant's Dick Smith Wilderness map will show them all.
9 Trails, 2 Roads Loop
The description starts at the Cold Spring Trail. These are the directions to Cold Spring Trail.
From the Mission, corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara...
Get on US 101 going southbound 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 south.
Take the Olive Mill Rd. Exit. Turn left.
The road becomes Hot Springs Rd. at some point without turning.
At East Mountain Dr., turn left.
Drive about a mile and a half and park just before, or just after the stream crossing on the road.
The trailhead begins on either side of the stream, but is best started before the stream crossing at the Montecito Trails Association sign.
(About 20 minute drive)
9 Trails, 2 Roads Loop
From the Trailhead...
Follow the instructions to hike the Cold Springs Trail all the way to East Camino Cielo Road.
Turn right when you reach Camino Cielo Road and hike about 1/10 mile to the junction with San Ysidro Trail. Follow the San Ysidro Trail down all the way to the bottom. Refer to the instructions for San Ysidro Trail for details, but do not follow the instructions further than where the trail meets the dirt road at the redwood tree.
When you emerge from the San Ysidro Trail to the dirt road at the redwood tree, follow the road down the hill briefly, keeping an eye out for another dirt road branching off to the left. Take that left branch. Hike very steeply uphill.
At some point along this dirt road you will see a fork in the road. One branch will go slightly downhill/level to the right. The other will go uphill to the left. Keep left. Sorry about that.
You will climb a little less steeply, but steeply enough, and once you reach the top, you'll see a square sign whose letters have disappeared. If you examine the sign, you can almost see that it says something about Buena Vista Trail and easements and a bunch of blah blah blah about the easements. This sign marks the Buena Vista Trail.
Follow the Buena Vista Trail down until you reach a fork in the trail. You will be beneath beautiful sycamore trees in a small canyon. Turn left at the fork and go uphill again. Count 15 grueling switchbacks, not counting the little S curve at the very end. Emerge once again onto the Edison dirt road.
Continue climbing on the Edison Road. When the road levels, there will be a small side trail barely visible off to the right. This leads to a really big chair. The big chair might not be there anymore. No need to follow this trail. It's not part of the loop.
Continue along the Edison Road. It will dip a little and climb again. Finally it will drop quite a bit. There will be a fork in the road. One fork goes down to the right and the other goes up to the left. If you go down and to the right, you'll end up on Romero Trail on the road part of the trail. It's a short-cut. If you stay to the left, you'll climb up to some more power lines. As soon as you emerge to the flat spot by the powerlines, look ahead for a trail that plunges over the other side. Follow that trail down.
This small trail will drop down to the creek that you normally follow as you hike Romero Trail. It's a really nice creek. The trail will lead you to join Romero Trail. Follow Romero Trail to where it emerges onto the fire road. Turn right when you reach the fire road.
Follow the road down to the Romero trailhead. Turn right on the road to begin the grueling roadwalk. This is Bella Vista Road.
Follow Bella Vista Road for about a mile. There will be a junction with Park Lane going up to your right. Park Lane is lined with sandstone rocks with plants growing in woodchips. Take Park Lane and follow that for a while.
As you walk along this road, keep an eye out on your right. Eventually you will see a sign marking the Buena Vista Trail. Buena Vista is a Y-shaped trail. This sign points to the part of the Y that you did not do.
To reach the Old Pueblo Trail, skip Buena Vista Trail and continue along Park Lane, keeping your eyes open for a sign pointing the way to Old Pueblo Trail. You should see it after passing a long row of mailboxes embedded in a sandstone rock wall.
Follow the sign leading to Old Pueblo Road. It will point you up an old, narrow road that looks abandoned. Eventually a trail will appear on the left side of the road. Follow that trail.
Old Pueblo Trail winds around behind some inviting swimming pools and mansions. You will pass a big yellow rock with a cave in it. You will come to a chainlink fence with a trail descending slightly to the left. The trail may be marked with a small sign on the fence. The sign was made of laminated paper when I went through and may be gone when you go through. It is marking the Wiman Trail. The Wiman Trail goes down to Park Lane near where most people park their cars to hike the San Ysidro Trail.
Continuing along the Old Pueblo Trail, not taking the Wiman Trail, climb a little to that paved and abandoned looking road and then descend once more. You will be walking behind a mansion with a large garden. You may hear running water and an aviary of small birds. You may see some interesting protea plants and some cute fences made of chamise branches and wire. You will emerge onto the dirt road that is at the beginning of the San Ysidro Trail. Turn right onto this dirt road, passing through a fence.
Following the road, keep an eye out on your left for a sign that says McMenemy Trail. When you see it, take the trail on the left down to cross a creek right away. After crossing the creek, walk through eucalyptus litter taking care not to follow any of the little side trails. Eventually pass a sign with a map and begin to climb on switchbacks.
There are many many switchbacks, making for a relatively gentle climb. If you've done the entire hike described here, you'll be pretty darn tired by now. At the top you'll reach a junction with a trail that goes up to your right—the Bud Girard Trail—and a sandstone bench with views of Montecito. There is also a hitching post for your horse.
The Bud Girard Trail goes up to the Edison Road. You could take that route if you want, but you'll have to climb and descend on the Edison Road. If you stay on the McMenemy Trail, you get to descend and climb on trail instead.
Continue down the McMenemy trail as it descends. Eventually it will climb again to another trail junction.
At the junction, turn right. You'll now be on the N. Vincent/Saddlerock trail. It's a steep and rocky climb. If you've been following this whole hike, this climb will be a killer. Climb all the way up, then drop a little, then do a final push to a flat spot with a big giant rock to sit on and either a large heart or a peace sign built from smaller rocks below it.
Stay to the left of the heart/peace sign and find a trail that leads down from this flat spot and toward some powerlines. Follow it down, then up again and reach the Edison Road near the powerlines. Turn left.
Go down hill until you reach a large sandstone wall with a sign that says Private Property No Trespassing. If you continue down the road, you will reach a junction where you can turn right and continue up the road toward Cold Springs Trail. Follow this if you don't want to be a lawbreaker.
If you are a scofflaw, pass by the no trespassing sign and walk by a couple of avocado trees and the old ruins of the hot springs resort that used to be here in the 1920s. You'll even walk down some old steps.
There will be a steel pipe. The pipe will be warm. There will be a fork in the trail. Stay to the left. Continue into the bamboo tunnel of doom, which sometimes you will be able to walk upright through and sometimes you may have to walk on hands and knees. Pass under another hot pipe and cross a small creek.
Continue past several castor bean plants. Don't eat the burr-like beans. They are poisonous, full of ricin. Soon you will cross the hot spring. There may be pools lined with plastic tarps to soak in. The water smells of sulfur. You may be tempted to take a soak since you'll be in pain by now, but knowing that you are pretty close to completing the route, and knowing you have only one last uphill climb before the end, you'll probably skip soaking in the pools, your mind thinking about your celebratory beer and ibuprofen instead.
Climb up the trail until you emerge on to the Cold Springs Trail once again, at the big No Trespassing sign. Turn left and head down. It's all downhill from now on.
Follow the trail down until you emerge once more at the dirt road with all the powerlines. Continue along the dirt road, passing the official trail on the right. Just keep on going. Stay alert for a trail on your left. You can take that trail. It'll make you climb just a little bit. If you are feeling lazy, you can just stay on the dirt road to the end. At the end of the dirt road, just continue down a small trail to rejoin the little trail that you had seen on the left. Someone has been trying to block this trail so if that happens, you'll have to backtrack to the little side trail and take that instead.
You now have one last mile left. As you follow this trail, you will have one T-shaped junction to stay alert for. You want to go left when you get to it. If you go right you end up on the Cold Springs Trail and you'll have a longer walk to your car. Go left and try not to follow any of the little side trails spidering from the main trail. Just stay on whatever trail is bigger and has more footprints.
As you continue to descend, there will be lots of little trails branching off. Try to avoid them as much as possible. There will be a junction with two equal-sized trails. It doesn't matter which you choose since they join each other in a few steps. I usually stay on the right one, but once in a while, someone blocks the trail on the right.
That all sounds confusing but it isn't. It's quite straightforward all the way to the bottom. There will be a few switchbacks at the end and you'll be able to see the road. Finally emerge at the road victorious! You just did quite a strenuous hike!
If you survived this whole thing, you just did 5792 feet elevation gain and loss and nearly 18 miles. Along the way, hopefully you discovered a whole bunch of new loops you can do to keep things interesting.