Gaviota Wind Caves
- Location: Gaviota State Park, 33 miles north of Santa Barbara. From Santa Barbara and Ventura, take Highway 101 to Gaviota Beach Road and turn left. If you hit the rest area or the tunnels, you’ve come too far. Drive 0.3 miles into the park and just before the entrance gate, bear right on Hollister Ranch Road. After the road makes a hard right, park in the lot by the fence at the beginning of the paved trail (8am until sunset.) If you’re coming from the north, Gaviota Beach Road will be your first right turn after the tunnel. Drive down to the park , turn right just before the entry booth on Hollister Ranch Road and follow it to the trail head as described above.
- Agency: Gaviota State Park
- Distance: 2.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 600 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
- USGS topo map: Gaviota
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; long pants and shirt
- More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here; Trip Advisor page here
- Rating: 7
Shaped by the elements, the caves in the bluffs above Gaviota are one of the more popular hiking destinations in the Santa Barbara area. The moderate hike to reach the caves takes in nice ocean, mountain and valley views. On the downside, the trail never really escapes the noise of nearby Highway 101, and the caves have an unfortunate amount of graffiti and carvings in the rocks. Makes you wonder.
But such drawbacks aside, this is certainly a very worthwhile hike to do if you’re in the area. L.A. residents traveling up the coast might find it a fun place to stop and stretch their legs. Keep in mind that the trail is entirely exposed, and there are many steep, loose and rocky stretches.
From the parking area, follow the paved path heading north, toward the tunnels on Highway 101. You get nice views of the mountains, and in the spring, they’re covered with yellow mustard flowers.
At 0.5 miles, look for a narrow trail heading left, toward the hills. If it’s spring, expect the flowers to grow over the trail, and that you will have to push them aside (and watch out for bees.)
At about 0.8 miles, you reach the top of the ridge, where you can take a short spur to the right and enjoy some nice views down into the canyon. The trail continues to the left, climbing over some rocks and soon arriving at the lower caves at just under a mile.
After exploring the caves, continue up the ridge. A short spur leads you to the top of the cave, where you get a nice ocean view. You can also see your destination: a round window in a rock perched on the bluff above.
Continuing along the ridge, the trail begins to get steep and loose. Stay left at the next two forks, and you reach the cave at 1.2 miles. Heading through a narrow gap in the rocks, you arrive at the cave, where you can peer through the round window at the valley far below.
After enjoying the unusual topography and panoramic views, head back down via the same route, taking care on the loose, rocky surface of the trail.
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.