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The Best Hikes in Santa Barbara to Discover Now
Health & Fitness

The Best Hikes in Santa Barbara to Discover Now

Join us on a leg-burning journey through the best hikes in Santa Barbara, you won’t want to miss a single one.

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5 min read

August 16, 2021

Can you really say you know a place unless you’ve traversed its trails? We don’t tend to think so. What also helps is knowing beforehand that the hike you’re embarking on will be the most stunning thing you’ve ever seen. And you know what they say about Santa Barbara—everything about this place is stunning. Its seductive location (tucked right between the mountains and the sea), its salty air, its red-tile roofs reflected in the water… the postcard’s practically created. So join us on a leg-burning journey through the best hikes in Santa Barbara, you won’t want to miss a single one. 

The Arroyo Burro Beach Loop is an easy flat walk with nice views of the ocean. A large part of this loop, dogs are allowed off leash.

Arroyo Burro Beach Loop

Location: Douglas Family Preserve 

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: Arroyo Burro Beach Parking lot 

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.3 miles 

Time: 30 minutes 

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes 

If you're looking for an easy-breezy hike in Santa Barbara, then you should definitely opt for the 70-acre dog-friendly Douglas Family Preserve. Hiking here feels like you're enabling easy mode on leg burn but still managing to see all the spectacular views you've ever imagined. Striking sea cliffs, eucalyptus and cypress giants, wildflower beds, and for those who are extra-lucky, sightings of whales and dolphins offshore are some of the highlights along the way.

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The Tar Pits and Carpinteria Bluffs Loop is perfect since its right next to the ocean; you'll get to view seals, dolphins, and other creatures.

Tar Pits and Carpinteria Bluffs Loop

Location: Carpinteria State Beach

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: At the south end of Bailard Avenue

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.7 miles 

Time: 45 minutes 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

This is another animal-filled Santa Barbara hike, but this time, harbor seals are the main event. The Tar Pits and Carpinteria Bluffs Loop Trail stretches along the edge of towering sea cliffs on one of the largest open spaces left on the south coast of the American Riviera. As you're walking, make sure to look down at the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary; you can see adorable creatures frolicking in the surf and crawling up the beach like giant caterpillars.

Stevens Park 

Location: Stevens Park

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: At the park entrance 

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.6 miles 

Time: 1 hour

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Of all the hiking trails in Santa Barbara, the one that somehow gets overlooked is located in the heart of the county. Use this grave injustice to your benefit and traverse the trail in Stevens Park in near-solitude. Start your journey at the trailhead and walk past the typical parky things like the parking lot and the children's playground. Once you're past those, you'll suddenly find yourself strolling through a forest of ancient oaks and sycamores—a hideaway that's all flower-flecked meadows and no outside disturbance. And if there's any place that can bring all your picnic ideas to life, it's exactly this, just sayin’.

Avid hikers suggest trekking the Cold Spring Loop Trail counterclockwise for steep switchbacks to start and a gentle slope down to the springs.

Cold Spring Trail Loop 

Location: Gould Park

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Not applicable

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 2.7 miles 

Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: On leash

Considered one of Santa Barbara's best hiking trails, Cold Springs is one of those only-believed-when-seen types in SoCal. What starts out as a simple walk along the creek suddenly turns into a vista roller coaster filled with picturesque pools, several cascades, and a once-and-for-all confirmation that Mother Nature rules. What's great about this hike is that despite its moderate rating, you can adjust the length and difficulty in accordance with your skill and energy level. Options range from an easy jaunt to the first pools (your kids can hunt for frogs and salamanders here) to a leg-burning strenuous one-way trek to East Camino Cielo.

Romero Canyon Trail

Location: Los Padres National Forest

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: By Romero Fire Road 

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 6 miles 

Time: 3 hours 

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: On leash

For those who believe that Santa Barbara is best admired from atop, this trail is right up your alley. Hiking Romero Canyons means climbing mountains that rise close to the sea, passing several creeks and wildflowers, and gazing out over Montecito, the sea, and the incomparable Channel Islands. Romero Road was actually a popular route to the Santa Ynez Mountains back in the day, but now it's mostly used for mountain biking (wink wink). 

The views at the top of Inspiration Point are breathtaking; the big rock is the perfect place to stop and take a breather before heading back down.

Inspiration Point

Location: Los Padres National Forest

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Roadside parking at Tunnel Road 

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 3.4 mile

Time: 2 hours 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Staying true to its name, Inspiration Point is Santa Barbara's most illuminating hike. This trail culminates at a small summit with gorgeous 180-degree views of the city, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and the roaring Pacific. This hike is especially great for those who are visiting Santa Barbara for the first time because you basically get an overview of the entire area. The shortest version of the trail begins at Tunnel Road and stretches for a while until ascending about 800 feet to the summit. 

Seven Falls Trail

Location: Los Padres National Forest

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: At the trailhead 

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3.2 miles

Time: 2.5 hours 

Route: Out and back 

Dogs allowed: Yes 

Ask any bouldering enthusiast and they'll tell you that the best thing after a strenuous workout is cooling off next to a cascading waterfall. Not a lot of people have this luxury though—except for those hiking the Seven Falls Trail in Santa Barbara. Begin by parking at the Tunnel Road trailhead and continue past the turn-offs to reach the mindblowing cascades.

Rattlesnake Canyon stretches from Skofield Park into the Santa Ynez Mountains. Its name comes from its serpentine curves, not rattlesnake occupation.

Rattlesnake Canyon

Location: Rattlesnake Canyon Park

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Available at Skofield Park

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 4.4 mile

Time: 4 hours and 30 minutes 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Don't let the name scare you—chances of you seeing rattlesnakes on this trail are very, very slim. Instead, this out-and-back is the delightful alternative to the more crowded Inspiration Point; but they share an adjacent canyon. Basically, if you want all the nature and minus the crowds, Rattlesnake Canyon is for you. Start trekking at Skofield Park and put your mind at ease under the shade of chaparral, oaks, and sycamores.

San Ysidro Trail

Location: Los Padres National Forest

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: No public parking 

Difficulty: Hard 

Distance: 8.6 miles 

Time: 4 hours 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Available from the upscale enclave of Montecito, the San Ysidro Trail is all about appreciating nature. And if you have the chance to visit after good long rains, you'll have the rush of water as a soothing soundtrack for when you're passing by creeks and waterfalls. For most of the way, this trail stretches along a canyon, which—if temperatures permit—is ideal for a refreshing dip.

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