Snyder Trail, Santa Barbara, CA

Knapp’s Castle from Paradise Road via Snyder Trail


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      • Location: Paradise Road, Santa Ynez River Valley, north of Santa Barbara. The turnoff for Paradise Road is on Highway 154, 10.6 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, 13.2 miles southeast of Highway 246 and 21.6 miles southeast of Highway 101. Go 4.2 miles on Paradise Road to a dirt turnout with a sign for the Snyder Trail.
      • Agency: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara Ranger District
      • Distance: 6.8 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,850 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain)
      • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
      • Best season: October – June
      • Dogs: Allowed (exercise caution on warm days; watch out for ticks)
      • Cell phone reception: None at the trail head, weak to fair for the rest of the route
      • Water: None
      • Restrooms: None
      • Camping/backpacking: There are several campgrounds nearby on Paradise Road, including Fremont, Los Prietos and Paradise. For more information about camping in the Santa Ynez area click here.
      • Recommended gear: Sun hat, hiking poles, insect repellent
      • More information: Trip descriptions (pre-Rey Fire) here and here; Map My Hike report here
      • Rating: 8

Updated January 2019

If you didn’t know better, you might mistake the sight of ruins high in the hills above the Santa Ynez River Valley for Europe. Knapp’s Castle, the stone remains of a mansion built by George Owen Knapp, was built in 1920 destroyed by fire in 1940. The castle ruins and the views they take in are a popular draw for Santa Barbara hikers. The most common approach is an easy stroll from Camino Cielo. Hikers who want more of a challenge can opt for the climb up from Paradise Road via the Snyder Trail, described here. While the elevation gain is significant, the grade is moderate throughout and the outstanding views for nearly the entire duration of the hike make the miles go by quickly.

From the turnout, follow the Snyder Trail (named for Homer Snyder, a former local ranger and land owner), a wide dirt road, through a grove of oaks. In about a third of a mile, you reach a picnic table by a fenced-in water tank. The original trail, damaged in the 2016 Rey Fire, heads right; the new trail heads left, continuing through the oaks before reaching a ridge. You soon re-enter the shade of the oaks and make a series of switchbacks before returning to the ridge, with wider and wider views.

At about 1.5 miles, stay left at a “Y” fork and continue your ascent to a sloping meadow (about 1.9 miles from the start and about 1,100 feet higher). The trail then bears right and follows a dirt service road. After walking through another grove of oaks, the trail makes a definitive left turn and begins its final push to the castle. At about 2.8 miles, you will see your first view of the ruins on the ridge above. Once you get high enough to see over the ridge to the southwest, you’ll also get a glimpse of the ocean.

At 3.2 miles you reach the spur to the ruins, where you will likely be joined by hikers coming from Camino Cielo. Make a hairpin left turn and head south toward the ruins. As of this writing, Knapp’s Castle is on private land but the public is allowed access.

At the ruins, you can enjoy the same views once taken in by George Knapp. Lake Cachuma sits off in the distance, surrounded by the Figueroa Mountains. The verdant Santa Ynez River Valley stretches out below to the north. After soaking it in, you can enjoy more of the same views on the descent. Sunsets are especially impressive.

Snyder trail head, Santa Barbara County, CA
Snyder trail head
Snyder Trail, Santa Ynez, CA
Picnic area
Snyder Trail, Santa Ynez, CA
Oaks on the Snyder Trail
Snyder Trail, Santa Ynez, CA
Following the ridge (bear left) almost half way up
Snyder Trail, Santa Ynez, CA
Northwest view
Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, CA
Knapp’s Castle
Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, CA
Peeking through the arch
Snyder Trail, Santa Ynez, CA
Sunset and ocean views from the Snyder Trail

Text and photography copyright 2019 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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