Arroyo Burro Trail
[out of 5]
|For:||Long with extra 500ft elevation drop/gain in middle, plus not well-maintained|
This hike is a challenge. It's one of the rare front country hikes that has uphill both on the way up and on the way back, and all of it is steep. It's a long hike, too. 12 miles.
You will have to hike part of the way on paved and dirt roads and through private easements that are constantly in flux.
The Arroyo Burro Trail is a historic trail. In the days before automobile travel trails the only way over the impenetrable mountain barrier between the coast and the interior. Arroyo Burro supplied a route for miners and other trade. The trail continues over the other side of the mountains to the Santa Ynez River. This other half of the trail is shady and very lovely, but not described here.
The hike is 12 strenuous miles round trip with an approximate 4000ft elevation gain. The gratuitous 500ft. drop you do in the middle of the ascent adds that extra 1000ft.
Arroyo Burro Trail Directions
From the Mission, corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara...
Head up Los Olivos toward the mountains. The road makes a jag and becomes Mission Canyon Rd.
At the stop sign, turn left on Foothill Rd.
Drive 4 tenths of a mile and turn right on San Roque Rd. Pass the W. B. Cater Water Filtration Plant. Park your car where there is a large wooden sign marked "Jesusita Trail" on the left. Trailhead is here. It may be easier to park in a dirt spur on the right.
(About 10 minute drive)
Arroyo Burro Trail
From the Trailhead at the Jesusita Trail sign...
That's right. You begin the hike to Arroyo Burro Trail on the Jesusita Trail. Watch for poison oak. It's prolific on most of this trail. Ticks are also in force in spring.
At the beginning, go downhill, avoiding the trail to the left. That one goes down to the creek and eventually to Steven's Park.
Walk among some very tall weeds, much of which is poison oak. Be very careful as you walk along the part of the trail that is cut into the side of the hill. It is very dangerous. A woman fell off the side and became paralyzed. Some of this precarious trail appears to be an overhang. I try to walk quickly and get the heck out of there.
At .5 miles, pass a picnic table.
At .75 miles, reach the fork in the road for either continuing on Jesusita Trail or taking the Arroyo Burro Trail. Each fork is marked with a sign. Take the Arroyo Burro Trail, which is more straight ahead than to the left.
At the 1 mile mark, the trail ends and you reach pavement. Now it's a matter of playing follow the trail signs. Look ahead of you and you will see a thin, brown trail sign urging you up the road—the road to the left and up the hill. Follow it, and follow the others as you continue along. You should be climbing the hill not reaching the Moreno Ranch.
In 1/2 mile the pavement ends and you are back on a trail. Find the trail at the trail sign.
While following this trail there will be a spot with a fork in the road. There should be some brush obstructing the wrong way to go. If it isn't there, make sure you take the lower fork, the fork on the left.
At the 2 mile mark, you reach a sort of meadow. There is an oak tree, a patch of weeds, and a gravel road. I believe there is now a gate around it. Before, the trail went this way. Now you just continue to follow the dirt road.
The road is steep with gratuitous ups and downs. It follows the power lines and is among some avocado trees. Stay away from the trees. Your feet can carry disease spores that can infect and kill the roots of avocado trees. Dead avocado trees means less trail access. And don't steal any avocados.
At just under the 3 mile mark you will finally reach the real trail. It can be found marked with another one of those trail signs right at the base of two power lines.
Go one tenth of a mile and reach a nice, pink boulder of soft sandstone that people have carved graffiti into over the years. You've come quite a distance of exhausting ups and downs, pavement and dirt road and trail. Sometimes just reaching this rock is accomplishment enough. Have a snack, sit on the rock, then turn back and go home if you like. But if you want the full Arroyo Burro trail, you will have to continue up.
At 4.5 miles you will reach some more sandstone boulders. These are of a buff colored sandstone, different from the boulder below.
4.75 miles you crest the hill at a small meadow with a yucca plant. Now you will descend. It will feel like you are losing all the altitude you worked so hard to gain.
At 5.25 miles you will reach another dirt road. Turn right.
Go a half mile to a water trough made of two cylinders of concrete.
Another quarter mile brings you to a creek probably hidden behind brush. Turn right to enjoy the creek, which often has abundant newts, or turn left to continue up the trail.
You will ascend and the vegetation will become more dry. At the 6 mile mark you will reach East Camino Cielo Road. There you will see Little Pine mountain on the other side, framed by some hills in the foreground. You may hear people doing some target shooting. There is a lot of trash scattered around up here. If you are lucky, a nice breeze will cool you off in the summer time.
To get home, return exactly as you came. 12 miles round trip. Strenuous.