Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Santa Barbara County

Munch Canyon/White Rock Loop (Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area)

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  • Location: Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area in the Los Padres National Forest, north of Santa Barbara. From Santa Barbara, take Highway 154 northwest for 22 miles to Armour Ranch Road, 4.6 miles past Lake Cachuma. Turn right and follow Armour Ranch Road 1.3 miles to Happy Canyon Road. Follow Happy Canyon Road for 13.7 miles, much of which is one lane and about a mile of which is dirt (high clearance vehicles are helpful but not necessary). At 13.7 miles, stay straight at the junction and continue onto Sunset Valley Road for 1.5 miles to the signed Sunset Valley Trailhead. There is room for a few cars to park in a dirt turnout on the side of the road. Alternately, from Buellton, Solvang or Los Olivos, access Armour Ranch Road from the rotary where Highways 154 and 246 meet. Follow Armour Ranch Road 1.6 miles east to Happy Canyon Road. Turn left and follow the directions above.
  • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Luica Ranger District
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Recommended gear: Hiking poles, insect repellent, sun hat, long sleeves and pants
  • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
  • Dogs: Allowed; exercise caution on warm days and watch out for poison oak and ticks
  • Cell phone reception: Weak on the service road; none for most of the route
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: The Davy Brown Campground is a few miles down the road. The route presents several opportunities for dispersed camping as well (see description).
  • More information: Map My Hike report here; trip description of the Munch Canyon trail (return via Willow Spring) here; trip description of a shorter variation here
  • Rating: 8

Updated August 2018

This loop makes a grand tour through the eastern slopes of Figueroa Mountain, offering panoramic views, secluded canyons, alpine meadows and attractive oak woodlands. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of poison oak (although not quite as bad as on the nearby Davy Brown/Willow Spring loop) and the bugs, including ticks, can be annoying, but hikers willing to prepare themselves and make a long drive (at least 3 hours from most areas of L.A.) will be rewarded with an adventure that offers excellent scenic variety and, due to its remote location, solitude, even on summer weekends when the San Gabriels and Santa Monicas are heavily visited.

This post describes a counter-clockwise route starting on the Sunset Valley Trail. Note that the mileage to Munch Canyon is erroneously listed as 2.5 miles on the sign; it’s 1.5 miles. These 1.5 miles are mainly downhill, a pleasant (and deceptively easy) start to the hike. The trail heads through oak-dotted meadows, paralleling Sunset Valley Road. Stay left at a Y-junction 0.7 mile from the start and continue to an unsigned but obvious junction with the Munch Canyon Trail.

Bear left and follow the Munch Canyon Trail as it bends south, merging with another trail coming from the Davy Brown Campground. The trail follows the streambed of Munch Canyon before climbing sharply, reaching a junction 2.5 miles from the start. Here, you can shorten your hike by heading left on the White Rock Connector Trail, cutting out 2.6 miles and 650 feet of elevation gain from the total length of the route.

To continue on the 9-mile loop, head right and steeply uphill, picking up about 650 feet of elevation gain in the next 0.8 mile. The trail follows the upper reaches of a Munch Canyon tributary, providing some impressive views of the system of streams and canyons below. At 3.3 miles from the start, you reach a saddle (a possible option for camping) with views west toward Figueroa Mountain and north toward the San Rafael Wilderness. Head south (left) on a spur trail (the right fork heads toward the Davy Brown Trail). The initial climbing is steep but the grade becomes more moderate as the trail enters the shade of oaks and pines and begins making switchbacks. With the shade comes the price of poison oak – this stretch has the most of the entire route.

At 4.1 mile from the start, you reach a dirt road (8N32, or East Pinery on some maps). Most of the elevation gain is behind you at this point and the 550 feet that remain are spread out more gradually. Turn left and head uphill through a loop that appears to have once been a campground and may still present an opportunity for backpackers. The 1.2 mile stretch of dirt road may seem tame to veteran hikers, but after the steep climbing of before, many might find it a welcome break. The views are impressive on both sides; to the left are Munch and White Rock Canyons and to the right, beyond Figueroa Mountain, you can see the coastal plains of western Santa Barbara County.

At 5.3 miles from the start, turn left on the White Rock Trail. Once again the sign distance is off (it is about three miles to Sunset Valley Road, not two as indicated). The trail makes a steep descent before leveling out. You enjoy more wide-ranging views on the descent before rejoining the connector trail you passed earlier, 0.9 mile and 700 feet below the dirt road. Head right and continue your descent, passing the remains of an abandoned chrome mine. Additionally, keep an eye out for the giant white sandstone outcrops on the neighboring ridge that give White Rock Canyon its name.

Finally you reach Sunset Valley Road. Turn left and follow it 0.8 mile back to the starting point. Traffic, if any, will be light, but nevertheless exercise caution on the narrow road.

Sunset Valley Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Start of the hike on the Sunset Valley Trail
Munch Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Munch Canyon Trail, shortly after the merge with the Sunset Valley Trail
Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Santa Barbara County, CA
Junction with the White Rock Connector Trail
Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Los Padres National Forest
Forest road 8N32/East Pinery Road
White Rock Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Descending the White Rock Trail
White Rock Trail, Los Padres National Forest
White sandstone boulders above White Rock Canyon
White Rock Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Abandoned mining gear, White Rock Trail
White Rock Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Lower end of the White Rock Trail

Text and photography copyright 2018 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. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


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