Hot Springs/Saddle Rock/Girard/McMenemy Loop
- Location: Montecito, south of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, take the Olive Mill exit (94A) and head north for 1.8 miles (Olive Mill becomes Hot Springs Road along the way). Turn left on East Mountain Road and park in a small lot on the right in 0.2 miles. If parking is unavailable there, use nearby Riven Rock Road.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District; Montecito Trails Foundation
- Distance: 4.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
- USGS topo map: Santa Barbara
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
- More information: Trip descriptions (starting from the San Ysidro Trail Head) here, here and here; McMenemy Trail Yelp page here
- Rating: 7
This hike combines several trails in the foothills above Montecito, providing a good workout with some excellent ocean and mountain views. It might be described as a shorter, easier version of the Romero Canyon Loop nearby, utilizing both single-track trails and fire roads. It can easily be shortened or extended.
From the small turnout on East Mountain Road, follow the single-track trail uphill as it threads its way between private properties. At about 0.2 miles the trail merges onto Hot Springs Road, crosses it and follows along the side of more private land before reaching a junction. Bear right, crossing Hot Springs Creek (usually dry by summer) and ascend on the lower portion of the McMenemy Trail. More climbing brings you to another junction where the road continues straight. You’ll see two single-track trails; the far right one is the continuation of the McMenemy Trail. It ascends steeply to a saddle beneath a big oak, with some nice views of the ocean. This is the start of the loop.
If it’s early in the day, you may want to tackle the steep and exposed Saddle Rock Trail first, while the sun is low. It ascends rigorously from the junction. Stay left as a spur branches off to the right and continue past Saddle Rock, a large group of sandstone boulders. After 0.4 miles of steep climbing, the trail levels out at a wide clearing with some panoramic views. Trails leave from both sides of the clearing, dropping off the knoll to meet on its north side, below. From here, a short climb brings you to the fire road (1.5 miles from the start).
By now, the bulk of the uphill on this hike is finished. Head right on the fire road, enjoying ocean views to the south, notably Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa; you may even be able to spot the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance. After 0.3 miles, as the fire road begins its descent to San Ysidro Canyon, turn right on a spur and pick up the single-track Girard Trail.
Named for Edward Girard, a local conservationist and dedicated supporter of the Montecito Trails Foundation, this trail is arguably the most scenic of the route, taking in excellent views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Ysidro Canyon, shaded most of the way by coastal scrub oaks. A short detour brings you to a pair of benches nestled among some sandstone boulders, providing more terrific views.
At 2.4 miles from the start, the Girard Trail meets the McMenemy Trail, where another bench provides an opportunity to rest and take in the scenery. Turn right on the McMenemy Trail and follow it west. This last leg of the loop has some uphill, finally climbing back to the saddle with the large oak. From here, retrace your steps down to Hot Springs Road and back to the starting point.
Text and photography copyright 2015 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.