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Day Hike

Exploring Santa Barbara's Roller-Coaster Foothill Trails

May 16, 1987|JOHN McKINNEY

San Ysidro Trail is attractive and typical of Santa Barbara's foothill trails. It is suitable for several levels of hiking ability. Families with small children will enjoy sauntering along its lower creekside stretches. The more serious hiker will enjoy sweating up the switchbacks to Camino Cielo, the Sky Road. Truly decadent hikers will make reservations for the sumptuous Sunday brunch at San Ysidro Ranch (805) 969-5046), located very close to the trailhead.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101 in Montecito, take the San Ysidro Road offramp. Drive north on San Ysidro a mile to East Valley Road, turn right and drive a mile to Park Lane, which appears on the left just after crossing San Ysidro Creek. Turn left on Park Lane and in a half-mile veer left onto East Mountain Drive, which passes through a residential neighborhood to the trailhead. The signed trailhead is just opposite San Ysidro Stables. Parking is along East Mountain Drive.

The hike: The trail, lined with sea fig, bougainvillea, and other exotic plants, parallels a driveway for a short time, passes a couple houses, then becomes a dirt road. Continue up the dirt road and look up occasionally at the handsome Coldwater sandstone formations above you. To your left across the creek is "the gateway," a popular rock climbing area. After a half mile's travel, you'll pass two signed connector trails, which lead to canyons on either side of San Ysidro. To the east is Old Pueblo Trail, to the west Colonel McMenemy Trail.

San Ysidro Trail continues along the bottom of the narrow, snaky canyon. This isn't exactly a banner year for wildflowers, but the path is brightened with some blossoms.

Along San Ysidro Creek you encounter beautiful oak woodlands. With mighty oaks in the foreground and impressive rock formations in the background, it is a striking scene. A number of quiet pools await in the creek. Hikers have stacked up rocks to make shallow swimming and wading pools. You'll spot a large pool on your left, just before the trail ascends into the upper canyon.

Those hikers heading for the upper stretches of San Ysidro Canyon will leave the creek behind and follow the steep rocky trail. Along one length of trail, pipes serve as handrails and you'll feel as though you're walking the precarious Angel's Landing Trail in Zion National Park rather than this supposedly gentle path through the Santa Ynez Mountains. (The rails really aren't necessary). The trail continues along a rocky ledge, finds more solid ground, then crosses over the the west side of the canyon.

You'll continue marching through the chaparral up long, steep switchbacks. During the ascent, the geologically inclined will look up at the Matilija sandstone of the narrow upper part of San Ysidro Canyon and look down at the gray-white Coldwater sandstone formation, which has been wind-sculpted into striking cliffs and bluffs. When you reach East Camino Cielo you may return the way you came.

San Ysidro Trail

East Mountain Drive to pools: three miles roundtrip, 70-foot elevation gain. Mountain Drive to East Camino Cielo: eight miles roundtrip, 2,950-foot elevation gain.

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