Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks
- Location: Upper Oso Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road. Head east on Paradise Road for 5.8 miles and turn left onto Camuesa Road, signed for the Lower Oso Campground. Drive a mile to the campground and park in the day use area in the northeastern corner, just past the out houses. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; photos here; Eveytrail report here
- Rating: 8
It’s hard to go wrong in the oak-shaded canyons, wide meadows and tall mountains of the Santa Ynez Recreational Area and the hike to the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp is about as close as you can get to a hike that will please everyone. It’s easy enough that novices shouldn’t have too much trouble and it also serves as a gateway for more challenging hikes, such as Little Pine Mountain. The scenery includes both flora and geology (including limestone, sandstone and shale) of interest; the views are panoramic and the sense of solitude is strong. Though the area can be hot during the summer, with an early start the hike can be enjoyable even on warm days.
From the end of the campground, follow the dirt road (signed as Buckhorn Road or Cameusa Canyon Road on some maps) up hill for a gentle 3/4 of a mile along side a seasonal stream. Much of the route is shaded by oaks and sycamores. At 3/4 of a mile, continue straight on a single-track while the dirt road makes switchbacks up the hill. The going becomes a little more challenging here (watch out for poison oak) as you traverse some rocky and sometimes slippery terrain, although most hikers shouldn’t have too much of a problem.
For the next mile-plus, the trail follows the east side of the canyon, weaving in and out of more woodlands, crossing a stream bed and taking in some impressive mountain views. At 1.8 miles from the start, you reach a junction. Take a hairpin right turn and begin a short but steep climb to a meadow where the trail splits. Bear left and follow the path to Nineteen Oaks, where you can sit at a shaded picnic table and enjoy the view.
Text and photography copyright 2014 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.