Manzana Schoolhouse and Dabney Cabin
[out of 5]
|For:||Long, lots of creek crossings, level.|
Manzana Schoolhouse is an old schoolhouse last used around 1901 when there was a community of religious people living in the area. They once farmed along the Sisquoc River but several years of drought caused them to sell their land to the US Forest Service. The schoolhouse has been abandoned since then and ruins of their old homesteads can be found along the Sisquoc River. Dabney Cabin is an old hunting lodge from near the turn of the century and is a county historical landmark. The Manzana Schoolhouse makes a nice backpacking destination. There is a primitive campground there with picnic tables and a privy.
The trail is strenuous only because it is long and involves many river crossings that will get your feet wet. But the trail itself is quite level.
You hike in the San Rafael Wilderness area where the terrain is remote and wild. The vegetation is sparse, but in the creekbed it is riparian and relatively lush and cool. In spring there are many wildflowers.
It is 14 miles round trip to Dabney Cabin.
It is 17 miles round trip to the schoolhouse.
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.
At the second creek crossing after Davy Brown Campground, park your car. If you reach Nira, you went too far. Before the creek crossing there is a large sign off to the left describing the wilderness area. The parking spot is across the creek on the left.
You will need an Adventure PassPass, to park your car.
Manzana Schoolhouse and Dabney Cabin
Begin the hike at the sign marking the trail just across the river. It is best to cross the river just below the road, because the road gets slick with moss.
The trail parallels the river, moving up the side of the hill.
At about 1 and 1/4 miles you reach a small, primitive camp called Potrero camp. Cross the creek.
There is a trail junction here just after crossing the creek with Portrero Trail and Hurricane Deck to the right.
The trail stays in the river bed and requires many creek crossings. This may be pleasant in hot months. Continue straight at the junction and follow the trail as it crisscrosses the creek bed. You may need to search for the trail at some creek crossings. Look for foot prints, rock cairns or other signs. If you reach dead ends, backtrack and see if you can find another way.
At approximately 3 miles, you may notice Coldwater Camp to your right in a clearing. There is a campsite under a large oak tree. Both Potrero Camp and Coldwater Camp make for nice backpacking trips for beginners.
At about 4 miles, there is a large meadow to your right with a faint trail. Horseshoe camp is at the end of the horseshoe-shaped meadow, around the hill. There is a nice swimming hole here. Stay straight to continue on the trail.
At about 6 miles you come to a large meadow for cattle grazing. Your trail has become a dirt road. There is a private in-holding here. You may see people driving along the road. Just past the meadow, stay straight along the stream. Don't take the left fork in the road.
At just under 6.5 miles there is some old, rusty farm equipment in the field. It may not be visible if the grass is high. At 6.5 miles there is another junction with a dirt road. Stay to the right and cross the creek.
After a few more crossings (are you getting tired of crossing the creek?) you reach Dabney Cabin at the 7 mile mark. You can use the outhouse up the hill behind the cabin. There is a trail mileage sign here that makes you wonder. Frankly, those milage signs are about as accurate as the mileage markers on this description.
To reach the schoolhouse, continue along the same trail/road for another 1.5 miles. This makes a good backpacking destination. The schoolhouse is at the junction of the Manzana River and the Sisquoc river.
Total distance: Schoolhouse: 17 miles round trip. Cabin: 14 miles round trip.