Rattlesnake Trail and the Connector
[out of 5]
|For:||Uphill, but relatively short|
This trail doesn't necessarily mean you will encounter a rattlesnake! That is just the name of the canyon. One canyon over from Tunnel Trail, this hike is also within 15 minutes of downtown. There is almost always plenty of water in the creek, and the trail is always shady, making this the most popular trail in Santa Barbara. It is also relatively easy compared to just about all the other trails in the area. It is well-maintained, gentle, and there are no mountain bikes allowed. 3.5 miles round trip.
The trailhead is adjacent to Skofield park and is marked by a very large sign just behind the rock wall on the road. Right away you are creekside, and after crossing the creek you climb up to a fire road. Following the fire road you return to the creek and cross again. The trail stays near to the creek, but not in it, and gently climbs to a meadow. Just above the meadow is a junction. To the left is the Connector which connects Rattlesnake Trail with Tunnel Trail. If you want a strenuous hike after the warm-up to the meadow, continue up the Connector and all the way up Tunnel to East Camino Cielo. Or, for less of an effort, take the other fork in the road and follow the steep switchbacks up a half mile to Gibraltar Road near where the rock climbers practice and the hang gliders take off.
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 right on Foothill Rd.
At the stop sign and fire station, turn left onto Mission Canyon Rd.
At the fork in the road, stay right on Mission Canyon. Don't take Tunnel.
Make a sharp right turn on Las Canoas.
Follow Las Canoas to Skofield Park. Just before the park there is parking.
The Trailhead is at the stone bridge adjacent to the park
(About 5 minute drive)
From the trailhead...
Rattlesnake trail is marked by a very large, wooden sign, and a metal sign instructing you to clean up after your dog. Please do clean up after your dog. Most dogs promptly poop right in the creek and/or right on the trail after the first creek crossing, making the trail a stinky mine field, and polluting the water.
The trail crosses the creek immediately after the signs. (You can skip the first creek crossing by starting the hike at the other end of the bridge, the end closer to Skofield Park.) After the crossing, it heads uphill. This uphill is the steepest part of the trail.
At about one tenth of a mile there is a junction. It is narrower now than it used to be, but is basically a dirt road. Turn left and follow the dirt road. Try to remember this spot because it is actually easy to miss on the way back.
Along the way you may see side trails leading off to the left. Some of these side trails head down to the creek again. One of them will parallel the main trail and allow you to see an old dam. I’ll leave it to you to explore these side trails on your own.
At the 1/2 mile mark is an oak tree in the middle of the trail surrounded by naturalized rock roses that are a hot pink when in bloom. Continue.
You may see another dirt road branching off to the right. This old road heads up to Gibraltar Road near the Anglican retreat.
Next, you may see a fork in the trail with a trail heading steeply up on the right and your trail heading straight ahead. You can take the trail on the right and go past an old, circular horse trough. Eventually the trail will meet up again with Rattlesnake Trail but the very last part of this side trail is a little difficult to follow. My directions will follow the left fork.
At about 6 tenths of a mile, cross the creek diagonally upstream. There is a no fishing sign near the creek, a bit hidden. There are steelhead trout here. They are an endangered species primarily because they are like salmon, swimming up-stream to spawn and out to sea after they are grown. It's hard for them to exist with development and pollution and humans, but somehow they persevere.
Continue up the trail. There are pine trees in about 200 feet. There are three sweeping switchbacks through the pine forest. The pines were planted by the Sierra Club a long time ago.
Soon, after the climb levels off and moves through the shade for a while, you will cross the creek again. This makes a nice rest and is a spot where the other side trail by the horse trough emerges. Sometimes the creek here has newts in it.
At about 2 miles there is a meadow that makes a nice destination. Above the meadow about 20 feet are some nice boulders in the shade for having lunch. At these boulders is the junction with the Rattlesnake Connector. The junction is marked by a sign on a tree.
If you want to hike the Connector, turn left at the junction. The Connector is steep and climbs about 1/2 to 3/4 mile and meets with Tunnel Trail. From there you can either continue on Tunnel Trail or reverse your route to go back to your car.
If your destination is not the Connector, Rattlesnake Trail continues past the junction, climbing steeply for about 1/2 mile along shady switchbacks to where it meets Gibraltar Road. You can summit at Gibraltar Rd., or turn left up the road to the large rock formation where the rock climbers like to practice.
For the return trip, turn back the way you came.
Total mileage to Gibraltar is 5 miles round trip, give or take a few tenths.