Lost Valley Trail
[out of 5]
|For:||Relatively level, long if you do the whole thing, trail is overgrown or crumbly and remote.|
Lost Valley Trail begins along the Manzana Trail from Nira Campground. But instead of heading to the Narrows, you veer off to the left and head up Sulfur Creek.
The trail used to be a road long ago, but the vegetation has closed in significantly, making it a trail again.
The trail crisscrosses a small creek that almost always has water in it, no matter how late in the season it gets. At some places there is the distinctive smell of sulfur that gives the creek its name.
As you travel up Lost Valley trail you enjoy riparian vegetation, sparser hillside scrub, and occasional pine trees which rustle gently in the wind.
About 3 miles in there is a small camp next to the creek. Another mile in there is another camp beneath a huge oak tree.
Then the trail begins to climb up the mountain, making a looping switchback.
At the 4.5 mile mark is a natural spring. This is the last source for water for those heading further up the trail, and the first source of water in 18 miles for those who have been hiking the Hurricane Deck Marathon.
The spring makes a nice destination of its own, being in the shade and surrounded by bird feathers. The spring is the watering hole for the local fauna as well as hikers!
You can continue up Lost Valley for several more miles. The terrain changes and becomes more and more rugged and remote. There are many unusual rock formations and impressive cliffs to look at. A good stopping point is at the rock formations. This makes the hike a total of 14 miles round trip. But you can continue far into the back country for days. You are encouraged to get a topo map and plot out a back pack trip.
You will need an Adventure Pass Pass to park at the trailhead.
Directions to Nira where the hike begins
From the Mission, corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara...
Get on US 101 going northbound 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 north.
Take the Lake Cachuma/Highway 154 exit. Follow signs to Highway 154 and turn right on to 154.
Head up the mountains and down the other side.
Continue past Lake Cachuma a total of just under 22 miles on 154.
Just after crossing the Santa Ynez River on the concrete bridge, turn right on Armour Ranch Road.
Follow Armour Ranch Rd. for about a mile and a half to Happy Canyon Rd.
Turn right on Happy Canyon Rd. Follow Happy Canyon for 14 miles to Cachuma Saddle, which is a large, abandoned ranger station.
At this point there is a junction with a dirt road and a large informational sign produced by the forest service. Stay straight at this point on the paved road.
Drive 8 more miles toward Nira Campground.
Nira is a half mile past the second creek crossing after Davy Brown Campground.
When you reach Nira, keep heading straight until you reach the end of the road. Park here. You will need an Adventure PassPass, to park your car.
Lost Valley Trail
The hike begins at the end of Nira Campground at the large informational sign marking the San Rafael Wilderness area.
1 tenth mile, cross the river. This is the Manzana River.
At about 1/2 mile you will see some metal retaining structures on the hillside above to the left. This is the actual Lost Valley trail, but the start of the trail has gotten so overgrown that it is too easy to miss. There is a better way to get to the trail up ahead. So stay on Manzana trail.
At just under 1 mile you come to a very inviting pool (if it is not too late in the year). You head down the shaley slope where this pool is and pass it by as you follow the trail. A little further you will see the trail head into the bushes. The trail is sandy here and you have been walking on river gravel. But dont take this turn into the bushes. Instead, stay in the dry creek. You should see lots of foot prints of people who have done the same.
As you walk, keep an eye out to the left for a break in the cliff where there is an old drainage pipe. It can be easy to miss, but the rock here is white and and you can see there is a way up to the top of the ledge. Take this little cut-off and climb up over the drainage pipe. At the top there is a large rusty metal sign marking distances to Hurricane Deck and White Ledge. Some of these distances appear to be inaccurate. You are now on Lost Valley Trail.
Continue up the trail, meeting up with pine trees along the way.
The trail used to be a road, so it is gentle uphill. But since that time, the road has closed in with vegetation and rockslides to the size of a trail again.
At points here and there the trail dips down into Sulfur Creek where as you cross, you can smell the sulfur. Stay alert at crossings so that you find your way across. Sometimes you are asked to cross through thick riparian vegetation and the trail becomes more like a maze.
At 2.5 miles or so you will come to a small metal sign with an arrow pointing to the right marked trail. Consider for a moment why the forest service would go through so much trouble to point you toward a clearly marked trail. One reason could be that the original trail used to continue straight ahead and is now severely washed out and they would prefer you take the safer route through the creekbed.
Continuing on Lost Valley Trail...
At about 3 miles you come to a small camp. To the left there is a small trail leading to the creek. There is a small pool here that always has water in it. If you are low on water you may want to fill up here with your filter.
Continue past the camp taking the right fork in the road.
At about 3 and 1/2 miles you may be able to see an unmarked trail leading down into the creekbed to the left. This trail will not be describe here, but should you follow it you will reach one of those large, prominent rock formations. The one you will reach towers majestically to the east, with a single lone pine tree at its summit. Friends have dubbed the rock, Castle Rock. Don't try this trail if you are the type that gets lost easily.
Continue on Lost Valley trail. The trail begins to travel more easterly.
At about the 4 mile mark you reach a small camp beneath a very large oak tree. The trail will appear to go in several directions. The trail you want crosses the small creek to the right.
The trail begins a large, swooping switchback up the side of the hill. The vegetation become more inviting and pleasing to the eye.
At about 4.5 miles there is a lovely spring. This is your last chance for water if you are heading to Hurricane Deck, and the first chance for water in 18 miles if you have been hiking the Hurricane Deck Trail from Portrero Trail, a hike friends like to call the Hurricane Deck Marathon. Make sure if your water supplies are low you get some water here. The water is clean since it is a spring. If you intend to hike Hurricane Deck, get water here even if you have a gallon already. Too many people have had to be rescued by helicopter because of dehydration. Sure, you may feel cool, hydrated and comfortable here, but Hurricane Deck is exposed and very very long.
But we aren't going to Hurricane Deck today, so we take a little water, enjoy the shade for a moment, and continue along the trail.
You can continue up Lost Valley for several more miles. The terrain begins to change and becomes more and more rugged and remote. There are many unusual rock formations and impressive cliffs to look at.
At just under 6 miles you reach what feels like a summit. The rock formations here are impressive. There is a pine tree that makes a distinctive landmark, and a small camp beneath it. The rock formations are quite unusual with strange concretions that form hardened, round balls within the crumbling rock.
A good stopping point is at this pine tree. This makes the hike a total of 12 miles round trip if you turn around here.
If you decide to continue on Lost Valley, it heads toward White Ledge and the junction with Hurricane Deck Trail.
At 7 miles there is a wood and wire fence, partially collapsed.
At 8 miles there is a severe landslide, making the trail rough-going as you hike through the softened, slumping sand and rock.
At 8.25 miles is the junction with White Ledge.
You can continue far into the back country for days. You are encouraged to get a topo map and plot out a back pack trip. But to turn around at White Ledge makes for a long 16.5 mile day hike. That's probably enough.
To return to your car, head back the way you came.