West Fork and Tangerine Falls
[out of 5]
|For:||Can be slippery, some climbing|
The hike begins at the main Cold Spring Trail After a gentle uphill for 1/4 of a mile you reach a bench by the creek where you can sit and clear your mind with the gentle sounds of small waterfalls. This bench is at the junction to the West Fork of Cold Spring Trail. Cross the creek at the bench and continue up the hill for about 3 more miles, passing a historical, landmark water tunnel along the way to the summit at Gibraltar Rd.
For a variation, there is a small junction you come to well before the summit at Gibraltar Rd. Follow this primitive trail along the creek to a waterfall known as Tangerine Falls. It's quite an adventurous rock-hopping kind of a trail, and at some places, not a trail for the faint of heart.
Also, not far along after you turn off toward Tangerine falls there is another turnoff to the left as you follow the water pipe. This trail will take you steeply to a nice rock outcrop at the top of the falls. You can't see the falls from this outcrop, but you can enjoy the lofty perch just as well. Continuing along this trail, a little exploration on your part and you might discover something interesting at the end of this trail—a structure some of us call the homestead. Or you may find yourself sweating up a steep hill toward the top of the mountains, if that part of the trail still exists.
The total mileage for the basic West Fork to Gibraltar Rd. trail is 3.5 miles round trip. For Tangerine Falls it is closer to 3 miles round trip.
Cold Springs Trail and West Fork
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)
West Fork Cold Spring Trail and Tangerine Falls
There are two (well, actually 3) starting points for Cold Spring Trail. I find that the easier starting point is not at the rusty metal sign, but at the Montecito Trails Association Sign before the water crossing. It's marked with a sign and garbage can. Careful starting this hike at this point because there are two trails starting a few feet apart from one another. The steeper trail is not described here, but makes a nice, steep hike that eventually meets Cold Spring Trail again making for a perfect loop (with a choice of a shorter or longer loop) just right for an evening workout after work.
Back to the trailhead. The Cold Spring Trail immediately climbs some steep, wooden steps. The trail continues through refreshing creekside scenery.
At about 1/4 mile you reach a bench and a junction with the West Fork of the Cold Spring Trail. The trail is marked with a rusty sign and crosses the creek. Take this trail, which is to the left.
The trail climbs uphill following a water pipe. You can hear the water rushing inside it in some places sometimes. At some points the pipe is rusted through and empty. If you have been wondering where it goes, here is your chance to find out.
At just under the one mile mark there is a junction with an unmarked trail heading off to the right, downhill to the creek. You will see a giant boulder to the right and a giant boulder straight ahead. To the right is the trail to Tangerine Falls (described below). To the left is the main West Fork Trail which summits at Gibraltar Road.
The Main West Fork Trail, summitting at Gibraltar Rd.
Taking the left fork. As you continue you will cross the creek here and there on a gentle trail. You will be following a pipe much of the way. For a stretch the trail may be overgrown with blackberries, grasses and poison oak. There may be some steep sections.
Next, you will come to the water pipe with a cable attached to it. You have to cross the creek here.
Soon you will see the water tunnel, built in 1905. It was built by mining straight through the mountain. Keep out. Please practice Leave-No-Trace principles, too.
The trail continues past the water tunnel. At this point the trail is newly built and quite wide. In some places there is no shade (especially so since the Tea and Jesusita fires). There are numerous switchbacks and then a small descent as the trail traverses a small ridgeline. The descent takes you through a chamise forest, then you find yourself back in the shade, going up again.
At some point you reach the original trail again. At this writing you could still see, faintly, the original trail where this new trail meets it, but it would be easy to miss. It's amazing how fast the chaparral grows back.
The trail continues to climb, sometimes a bit steeply. Much of this climb is newly re-routed with signs pointing away from old trail and toward new trail. It switchbacks toward the summit at Gibraltar road, for approximately 1.75 miles.
To return to the trailhead, turn around and go back the same way you came for an approximate 3.5 miles round trip.
At the junction with the two big boulders, take the fork on the right heading down, crossing the creek diagonally downhill, then back uphill and sharply to the left to the other side. Soon after this creek crossing, you may notice another trail that veers off to the left just where you have to step over the pipe. That trail will take you above the falls and further into a shaded canyon. It is very, very steep and goes to an overlook spot that is above Tangerine Falls (although the falls are not visible at the spot) and beyond to an old homestead where there are some rusty old things and a stone structure.
The route to Tangerine Falls can be treacherous and difficult to follow. In wetter months creek crossings may be difficult and the trail in some places can be slippery to the point where it may be too dangerous for some people to attempt. In drier years, the trail can still be too slippery as the soil changes to a consistency like tiny ball bearings. In some places you have to hold on to tree roots and climb steep gullies with nothing below you but a terrifying chute leading to certain death on the rocks below.
If you can manage the boulder hopping, the poison oak and the treacherous conditions (and many people can), once you reach the falls themselves, the rocks are slick from the constant action of the water and it can be difficult to get yourself right up to the falls. But many people can do it, and if you are one of them, you'll be rewarded with an ice cold shower under spectacular falls when water is flowing. The Tangerine name comes from the slight orange tinge to the travertine that has built up under the falls.
The falls are the summit. You can't really go much farther. Some people are able to climb/scramble up above the falls, but it's quite dangerous to do, and I was stung by a swarm of yellow jackets the last time I tried it. I will never do that again! (I still have nightmares.)
To return home, reverse your route. Total miles round trip is about 3.