Looking up at the Santa Ynez mountains from Santa Barbara, California, it may be hard to believe that you could enjoy a hike with small but scenic waterfalls. The Cold Spring Trail not only offers a year-round creek, but also the chance to bag the pyramid-shaped Montecito Peak.
The trail begins at Mountain Drive where Cold Spring Creek crosses the road. On the east side of the creek you will see a sign marking the start of our hike. Round trip totals around 7 miles with nearly 2,700 vertical feet of climb so bring plenty of water. Also be on the lookout for poison oak, which grows throughout this area. Being as close to Santa Barbara as it is, you probably won’t find solitude on this trail – at least not lower down. However, the challenging final push to the peak often weeds out many of the day hikers so chances are you won’t find a crowd up there.
In the first section, you will cross the creek twice and just beyond the second crossing you will come to a fork. Take the obvious right hand fork. A little further on there is another fork where the choice is less obvious, once again, go right. At the next fork take a left and head for the fire road. Once you hit the road turn left and follow the road until you see the fairly obvious trail on the left. You are faced with some stiff climbing but the view is worth it.
Keep an eye out for the trail to the peak on your right. It is not hard to find if you are paying attention but it is not marked so you could miss it. From there it is a very steep, not and sometimes slippery scramble to the peak. Don’t rush it – it is better to go slowly and deliberately rather than trying to push it and end up taking a slide every few steps!
The view from the summit is amazing on a clear day. The entire coast is spread out before you with the Channel Islands lined up in the distance. You can see pretty much all the way from Carpinteria to beyond Santa Barbara in a grand sweeping vista. The view of the harbor is especially scenic. Even though the city is on full display below you, there is a strange feeling of being completely detached from it, like it’s all just a painting. Usually the only sound is the wind. Behind you, the Santa Barbara backcountry stretches to the horizon.
When it comes to hiking in California, you can certainly find more famous routes, but the views from Montecito Peak are hard to beat. It is a worthy goal for a pretty strenuous day hike.