- Location: Montecito, south of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, take the Olive Mill Road exit (94A) and head north (left if you’re coming from Santa Barbara; right if from Ventura or L.A.) Go a total of 2 miles (Olive Mill becomes Hot Springs Road along the way) to East Mountain Drive. Turn left and go 1.1 miles to the trail head, just before the road crosses the stream. Park on the right side of the road, or wherever is available and begin hiking on the second trail leading up from the road. Dogs are allowed but, due to the rough nature of the latter part of the hike, not recommended.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
- Distance: 2.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 850 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: Year round, ideally after heavy rain
- USGS topo map: Santa Barbara
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here
- Rating: 7
In rainy winters, Tangerine Falls is known to put on quite a show. Unfortunately as of this writing the 100-foot waterfall in the Montecito foothills is dry; hopefully if the predicted El Nino conditions for the rest of this winter happen, Tangerine will return to its former glory. Although short, the hike to reach the waterfall is scenic and challenging, so it’s still worth a visit even in dry conditions.
Begin by following the Cold Spring Trail northwest and uphill from the parking lot, into a thick woodland of oaks and sycamores. After a quarter mile, turn left onto the signed West Fork Trail (the East Fork Trail continues toward the Montecito Overlook, another enjoyable hike.) Cross Cold Spring Creek and begin a steady climb out of the canyon up the west wall. Through a gap in the trees, the large slabs of rock above the canyon become visible; if the waterfall is flowing, you will be able to see it from here.
At about three quarters of a mile, you reach a Y-junction. The West Fork Trail continues uphill to Gibraltar Road, another popular destination. However, to reach Tangerine Falls, bear right and head downhill. Cross a stream bed and climb up the other side (the trail looks washed out but isn’t too difficult; there are plenty of handholds). Soon after, bear right on a use trail that follows a metal pipe. Unless you are adept at and enjoy canyon scrambling, it’s easiest to follow this trail which starts out on the left (west wall) of the canyon, crosses the stream and climbs steeply up the east wall. Again the trail may appear to be washed out, but with hands as well as feet, it’s navigable and easier than bouldering the canyon floor.
The trail crosses once again to the left side of the stream and continues its steep ascent. At about one mile from the start, it gives way to a jumble of giant boulders. Climb up the steep slope, choosing the path of least resistance (in general, closer to the stream is easier). After about one sixth of a mile, look for a gap on the right. Crawl under a tree, descend a use trail and you will arrive just below the base of Tangerine Falls.
Despite the current lack of water, this is still an enjoyable spot to relax and take in a view down canyon and of the impressive sandstone wall before you. Climbing higher is tricky but doable for people with rock climbing skills. When ready, retrace your steps, exercising caution on the steep descent.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.