The front country of the Los Padres National Forest has many great trails, and the hike to the Montecito Overlook via the Cold Springs Trail is understandably a popular one. With ocean and mountain views, interesting geology and a seasonal stream with a small waterfall, the hike packs a lot of scenery into a short distance – and quite a workout.
From East Mountain Drive, look for the signed Cold SpringTrail. The first trail you come to is your return route (if you do the hike as a loop, clockwise is strongly recommended; that allows you to make the ascent almost entirely in the shady side of the canyon.) The second trail is signed as the Cold Springs Trail, with distance markers to the overlook and Montecito Peak.
Follow the Cold Springs Trail along the creek, arriving at a bench at a quarter mile. Stay straight on the east fork of the Cold Spring Trail, which starts to climb up along the east side of the canyon. You reach a stream crossing at about half a mile, where a small waterfall pours over rocks into a pool.
You continue along the west side of the creek, soon crossing it again (be careful on the rocks, which may be slippery), and stay right at a junction. At 1.1 miles, you make a hairpin left turn and make your way around a north facing slope, getting views of the mountains above and of power lines on the fire road.
You reach the fire road at 1.4 miles. Turn right and look for a single-track, which will take you to the high point of the overlook. Here, you get a nice view of Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Island; if the air is clear, you can see as far as the Santa Monica Mountains.
At this point, you can return via the same route. However, if you want to make a loop hike, continue along the Cold Spring Trail, which descends steeply from the west end of the overlook. After passing the end of the fire road, it drops sharply back toward the canyon. The trail splits but both paths soon meet again, so you can take either. The views of the ocean and the mountains are good, but make sure you are careful on the rocks; the trail is steep and loose.
At 1.8 miles, turn left (even though the right fork is signed as the trail.) You continue dropping down the ridge, reaching a saddle. Here, you dip into the shade, a welcome change after the exposed terrain higher on the ridge (aren’t you glad you went clockwise?) Through the oaks and chaparral, you get some nice views of the ocean.
At 2.2 miles, turn right and continue your descent. Again the trail splits, soon reconnecting. You make a few more switchbacks, and finally the road comes into sight. Follow the trail down to the road, completing the loop at 2.6 miles.
Hikers who want a challenge can continue from the overlook up to Montecito Peak, two miles and 1,600 feet higher. The west fork of the Cold Spring Trail also serves as an access point for Tangerine Falls, one of the area’s popular hiking destinations, accessible by scrambling through a poison oak-heavy canyon.
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.