San Marcos Foothills Nature Preserve
- Location: Santa Barbara. From Highway 154, take exit 32 For Highway 192/Cathedral Oaks Rd. (the first exit north of the 101 freeway). Head west (left if you are coming from the south, right if from the north) on Cathedral Oaks for 0.2 mile. Turn right on Via Chaparral and follow it 0.4 mile to Salvar Rd. Turn right, cross the freeway to a T-junction and turn left on Via Gaitero. Turn left and follow Via Gaitero a short distance to its end. Park where available on the side of the road.
- Agency: County of Santa Barbara
- Distance: 2.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 550 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Best season: Year round
- Dogs: Allowed on leash
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: None
- Restrooms: None
- Camping/backpacking: None
- Recommended gear: sun hat hiking poles
- More information: Trip description here; Preserve guide here; Yelp page here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 6
Like nearby Parma Park, this 200-acre open space offers Santa Barbara hikers a chance to get some good exercise and enjoy a variety of views. This post describes a moderate hike to a vista point that can easily be done in an afternoon.
From the staging area at the end of Via Gaitero, follow the fire road into the preserve. A few false trails branch off but the main route is obvious. It meanders through pleasant, oak-dotted hillside meadows before dropping down to the Atascadero Creek stream bed. At a junction, the trail makes a hairpin right turn (another trail heads north, soon reaching the preserve boundary.) You enter the oak-shaded bottom of Atascadero Creek and make another sharp turn, this time heading left (north). The trail then begins a sharp ascent, climbing to a plateau (1.2 miles from the start.) It heads north through a grove of oaks before reaching an unsigned but distinct junction.
Here, the main route continues east, gradually descending for 0.9 mile to the preserve’s east boundary. This is an option if you want to extend the hike. To reach the vista point, however, stay left and make a short but steep climb, soon topping out on a bare ridge 1.4 miles from the start. Enjoy a view that includes the ocean, downtown Santa Barbara, UCSB and Santa Cruz Island to the south and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north.
Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
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.