San Ysidro Creek

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Swimming hole, San Ysidro Creek
Swimming hole off the San Ysidro Creek trail
Live oaks on the fire road

San Ysidro Creek

  • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Montecito.  From the 101 freeway, take San Ysidro Road north (right if you are coming from L.A., left if you are coming from Santa Barbara) for a mile.  Take a right on highway 192, and in 0.9 miles take a left on Park Lane.  After 0.4 miles, bear left on East Mountain Drive, go a quarter mile and park at the end of the street.  The signed trail head is on the right.  Parking is free.
  • Agency: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara Ranger District
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, trail condition)
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: Carpenteria
  • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here; All Trails report here  
  • Rating: 8

This is a very enjoyable, challenging hike that climbs up the beginning of the San Ysidro Trail.  The trail’s total distance, terminating at Camino Cielo, is four miles, and gains 3,000 feet, but even if you’re not up to hiking the whole thing, it’s well worth visiting.

The trail begins by walking past a few private buildings and briefly joins a road (it may be a little confusing, but look for the signs, they are there).  Pass a gate and continue following the dirt road, which continues its climb in the shade of oaks, sycamores and bay laurels, with San Ysidro Creek flowing to the left.  Half a mile from the trailhead, the McMenemy trail branches off to to the left, and the San Ysidro Trail continues straight.  You pass by some interesting rock formations, and through the trees, you can see some of the higher cliffs in the canyon.

About a mile from the trailhead, the fire road branches off to the left and the San Ysidro trail becomes a single-track. If you feel like it, visit two swimming holes just off the trail to the left.  After the second one, a couple of steep switchbacks bring you to a section of the trail cut from the canyon wall, with a metal railing.  Then the trail switchbacks sharply to the right, where it continues its climb.  At this point, you can get a nice view of a waterfall and swimming hole about 20 feet below. This is a good turnaround spot for a day hike, but for the ambitious, Camino Cielo awaits.

Text and photography copyright 2010 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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