[out of 5]
|For:||Relatively level, long if you do the whole thing, sun exposed.|
Manzana Narrows is a popular wilderness back country destination and makes a very long day hike or a great backpack trip. You hike in remote, rugged wilderness, far from civilization. The air is silent and clean, with the haunting sounds of wind in the pines. The vegetation in this area is sparse in most areas, and dense riparian in the river bed. The river itself can be quite full in spring, but dries significantly by summer. Because of this, and because the hike is long - about 14 miles - this hike is best done in late spring, fall or winter to avoid the high water in spring and heat in summer.
At the destination are primitive campgrounds and a cool river with inviting pools for wading, making this an attractive destination.
You will need an Adventure Pass Pass to park at Nira.
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.
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 and we will be following it all the way to the Narrows.
At about 1 mile, cross the river at a shaley spot with an inviting pool to the left. This shaley spot is the turn off to Lost Valley trail. To continue on the Manzana Trail, follow the well marked path into the brush growing in the creekbed.
Walk on sand with cut up logs and boulders strewn about.
At 2 miles is Fish Creek Campground. This makes a nice rest spot if it is a hot day.
At 2.25 miles the canyon to the right is Sulfur Spring Canyon. Not the same Sulfur as the Sulfur Creek that the Lost Valley Trail follows.
Continue on Manzana Trail. The trail travels on relatively level terrain paralleling the creek. The trail is exposed because the vegetation is sparse. There are a few ups and downs, and creek crossings here and there. Stay alert as you cross the creek for ducks or rocks piled on top of each other that show you the way to the trail at some creek crossings.
At about 5.5 or 6 miles, the trail takes a leftward turn up into a narrower canyon. The vegetation becomes more lush, with oak trees and some shade. The creek becomes very inviting at this point.
There is a lovely camp called Manzana Camp on the way to the Narrows. The pools in the creek are very inviting.
Continue on the trail to the Narrows. The trail heads uphill for some switchbacks, then drops back down to the creek again.
At about the 7 mile mark you reach the Narrows Camp. There are picnic tables here, but otherwise the camp is primitive. The pools are inviting and the camp is luxuriously shaded in summer, but cold in the cooler months because of the shade.
The Manzana trail continues for several more miles, connecting with Hurricane Deck at White Ledge, passing more primitive camps on the way. This is the portal to the real back country, those places that can only be reached by more than one day of walking. You are invited to consult maps and plan a backpack trip.
But this is only a day hike, and a long one at that. To return to your car, turn back the way you came for 7 miles.
Total hike mileage: 14 miles.