Difficulty G Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Cellular Service General information: Dogs allowed General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 4-6 Santa Barbara/Ventura Season: All year

Ellwood Mesa/Santa Barbara Shores County Park


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    • Location: Goleta. From downtown Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 west for 13 miles to exit 110 (Winchester Canyon Road/Hollister Road). Continue to Cathedral Oaks Road, turn left, cross the freeway and turn left onto Hollister. The parking area will be on the left in 0.6 mile.
    • Agency: City of Goleta
    • Distance: Up to 3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Suggested time: Up to 2 hours
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round (butterfly viewing is best November  – February )
    • Dogs: Allowed on leash
    • Cell phone reception: Good
    • Water: None
    • Restrooms: Chemical toilets at trail head
    • Camping/backpacking: None
    • More information: Article about the preserve and butterflies here; area description here
    • Rating: 5

Santa Barbara Shores County Park and adjacent Ellwood Mesa are the westernmost of several open spaces along the Santa Barbara coastline. The area is perhaps best known for its monarch butterflies that migrate to the site in the winter, but the network of trails on the bluff overlooking the ocean are enjoyable any time of year. Though the park is not far from civilization, its relatively remote location makes it pleasantly quiet, save for the occasional plane coming in or out of Santa Barbara Airport.

Hikes and walks of any length are possible here. A leisurely stroll around rim of the mesa itself is about 3 miles, but hikers without dogs can extend their trip down to the beach or into USCB’s Coal Oil Point Reserve to the east. The main trail leads south from the parking lot through a grove of eucalyptus trees to a junction (0.3 mile). From this point, several official and nonofficial trails converge. By staying on the wider, more established trails, you soon reach the edge of the bluffs. Head southeast, enjoying coastal views on the right and vistas of the Santa Ynez Mountains on the left.

At the southeastern corner of the park, by another eucalyptus grove, a trail heads east to a paved road that leads to Coal Oil Point, about half a mile away. To return to the Ellwood Mesa parking area, head north along a wide road that passes through the trees before reaching a junction. Head left on a narrow path that cuts across the mesa, taking any of several side trails that return to the northern edge of the preserve. Once you have reconnected with the first trail through the eucalyptus grove, retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Ellwood Mesa, Santa Barbara County, CA
Heading through the eucalyptus grove
Ellwood Mesa, Santa Barbara County, CA
Ocean view from the bluffs
Ellwood Mesa, Santa Barbara County, CA
Heading back from the southeast corner of the preserve
Ellwood Mesa, Santa Barbara County, CA
Heading west through the mesa, completing the loop

Text and photography copyright 2017 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.


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