[out of 5]
|For:||Uphill, long if you go all the way to the top, exposed to sun|
Tunnel Trail is one of the most popular trails in Santa Barbara. It is within 5 minutes from downtown and has enough twists, turns, and surprises to keep hikers interested. Unfortunately it's mountain-biker mecca, which means you are likely to be run off the trail.
Described here is the basic trail from the trailhead to La Cumbre Peak, the highest peak in Santa Barbara at 3995ft. Along the way are little side trails that you might be able to find if you are alert. If you are interested in an all day adventure you can try one of these steep, super-primitive trails, but use your head. People have gotten lost up there and have needed the Search and Rescue Team (and even Search and Rescue has gotten lost!) For that reason those trails aren't actually described here, but they are there for the discovery.
Tunnel Trail begins on the same paved road as Inspiration Pt. The road is an access road used by Edison and lasts about a mile until it becomes a dirt road. You can ride your bike or hike up the dirt Edison Road if you like. That is an excellent hike all its own.
Tunnel Trail starts a bit past the end of the pavement and goes up the mountain steeply for about 3.5 more miles. Along the way are gorgeous views of the city. The trail is usually very dry with one creek that runs only after rains. If you go up there shortly after a good strong rain you can see the waterfall, which can be impressive. The waterfall, when dry, is an impressive rock formation and makes a nice lunch/view spot. At the top you reach East Camino Cielo Rd. From there it is a short walk up the Road to La Cumbre Peak where there is an old fire tower, picnic table, and the fanciest outhouse I've ever seen. There are also breathtaking views of the rugged Back Country on the other side of the Santa Ynez range.
The hike is about 9-11 miles round trip (depending on if you go all the way to La Cumbre Peak) with an elevation gain of about 3000 ft.
Please note: Parking at the trailhead is limited and strict. You must park behind the white line or else they really do ticket and tow. It is a congested neighborhood and parking within the white line helps emergency vehicles get through. Please be courteous to car traffic as you walk up and down the road and let residents get through. Please keep dogs on leash because there is a flock of free-range chickens that lives in the area. Residents have been pretty vocal about the traffic and safety issues in the area and your courtesy will keep the trailhead open.
Tunnel 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 right on Foothill Rd.
At the stop sign and fire station, turn left onto Mission Canyon Rd.
At the fork in the road, stay left on Tunnel Rd.
Drive to the end of Tunnel Rd. and park your car. Be careful to park with your tires completely within the line or you will be towed. They are not kidding about that. It is a congested neighborhood and parking within the white line helps emergency vehicles get through. Please be courteous to car traffic as you walk up and down the road and let residents get through. Please keep dogs on leash because there is a flock of free-range chickens that lives in the area. Residents have been pretty vocal about the traffic and safety issues in the area and your courtesy will keep the trailhead open.
Hike up to the end of the road by the large water tank and metal gate across the road. This is the trailhead.
(About 5 minute drive)
From the Trailhead...
Pass through the iron, locked gate and follow the paved Edison Rd.
Approximately 3/4 mile cross creek on wooden bridge. Around the bend the road becomes dirt. There is a junction here. To the right the Edison road continues up for a few miles and makes a nice walk or mountain bike ride of its own. Stay straight on the dirt road at this junction.
Go just a little ways, maybe a few hundred yards further, and off to the right is the sign and junction for Tunnel Trail. Take this trail. You may miss this trail or not see the sign. If you end up seeing a trail that heads off the dirt road to the left, you have gone too far (you found the Jesusita Trail). If you end up climbing steeply on the dirt road, you have gone even further still.
At a little more than than the 1 mile mark you reach a junction with a dirt road and some power lines, called the Edison Catwalk. You can return back to the paved Edison Road at this junction by turning right. To continue Tunnel Trail, cross straight ahead to where the trail continues.
At about the 2 mile mark the trail will take a noticeable turn to the right into the shade on the north side of a hill. The side of the trail will be covered in moist ferns and other cool-loving plants. Just at the turn if you look to the right you will see a small, unnamed trail going steeply up the ridge into the brush. This steep trail is an example of one of the many hidden side-trails off of Tunnel Trail.
Continue along Tunnel Trail into the shady part and in about 1/4 mile you will come to another junction with an old, worn sign. This junction is with the Rattlesnake Connector Trail, which connects the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail with Tunnel Trail.
Continue on Tunnel, not taking the Connector. At just under the 3 mile mark there is a large rock formation at a turn in the trail that after a strong rain will have an impressive waterfall but most of the time will not have any water at all. This formation makes a nice view point and destination. To sit on top of the falls, just go straight through the bushes. Be careful at the falls because the rocks are slick near the edge and you could fall to your death.
Tunnel Trail continues past this formation and crosses a creek that is dry most months. The trail becomes increasingly rocky and the vegetation becomes noticeably more scrubby. The trail becomes more exposed to the sun as well.
At the 4 mile mark, after reaching shale and walking through sparse chaparral and yucca, you reach the junction of East Camino Cielo Rd. At this junction is a spot where motorcycle riders like to ride in the dirt. The Forest Service has put large boulders to prevent them from riding here, but sometimes they still do. Be very careful because they ride in the same spot as the trail, which is a little indistinct as you approach the junction with East Camino Cielo Rd.
At the road you can catch a glimpse of the remote back country. The dirt road that continues downhill is Angostura Pass Rd. and can be hiked if you like, but is long and tiresome. It goes down to Gibraltar Reservoir.
If you would like to summit La Cumbre Peak at 3995ft., Turn left onto East Camino Cielo Rd. and follow the road to the turnoff.The turnoff will be on your left in about a mile and blocked by a gate. Pass through the gate and follow the asphalt to the summit (either fork in the road will take you there) which is marked by an old fire tower, a picnic table, and the fanciest outhouse IÕve ever seen.
To get back to your car, return the way you came.