“Wet and Wild:
The Annual Blue and Green Adventure Guide
to Santa Barbara”

By Rachel S. Thurston,
Jesse Bellinger, and Matt Kettman


The Independent
Cover Story

*All of the following sections were written by Rachel S. Thurston. Due to the extensive length of this guide, each of these sections has been abbreviated.


by Rachel S. Thurston

“…Thurston has been an outdoor guide for five years, traversing the globe, and acting as a wilderness instructor for untold numbers of youth and adults: she has written about ‘adventures on dry land.’”

           Tucked between the ocean and mountains, Santa Barbara, by any outdoor junkie’s standards, is an adventure meca. Los Padres National Forest offers a staggering array of exploration that’s not solely limited to hiking but includes other outdoor sports like climbing, mountain biking, and backpacking. The lowlands offer a plentitude of parks, museums, and group activities, while the coast delivers some enthralling beach-time activity. If you lak gear, check the Adventure for Hire section.

            If you haven’t learned it already, take note: Anything can happen outside. Always remember to tell a friend of your trip itinerary beforehand, take plenty of water and food along for longer trips, pack a first aid kit and, in general, be aware of your route’s hazards. For information on backpacking permits and regulations for the National Forest Service, call their new headquarters (6755 Hollister Ave., Suite #150) at (805)968-6640. The NFS Headquarters and its respective ranger district offices also sell invaluable maps to the backcountry.

            The Pacific Ocean and two million acres of national forest await you…Let the adventure begin!

Adventures on Dry Land


By Rachel S. Thurston        

Within just a few minutes of downtown lie trails that transport us to different worlds: up canyons, through grassy meadows, and across gurgling streams. The following is just a sampling of hikes to whet the summertime appetite. Be sure to also check out some of the guidebooks and maps on the area like The Santa Barbara Trail Guide published by the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club. Day Hikes of the Santa Barbara Foothills and the Santa Barbara Country Recreational Map Series, both by Raymond Ford.

Seven Falls:

            If you’re tired of single tracks and you want to earn your swim….

Red Rock/Gibraltar:

            Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Highway 154, this sweet spot could tame the most urban of souls with its promises of….

La Cumbre Peak:

            Ever wonder what the view is like from the front country’s highest local peak? Push the limits….

Rattlesnake Canyon:

            Chances are, you won’t see a rattlesnake on this tried and true classi favorite among Santa Barbarans, but you will have the opportunity to indulge in….

Knapp’s Castle:

            Built in the early 20th century as a hunting lodge, the ruins of Knapp’s Castle include….

Cold Springs Trail:

            To the East or to the West? This lush canyon lives up to its name on sultry, summer afternoons with its waterfalls….


By Rachel S. Thurston

            Climbers can’t get enough of Santa Barbara rock these days. With the sport rapidly growing among outdoor junkies, just about anyone with a load of sunblock and a hunger to rip up their hands can take on this vertical (and diagonal) challenge. We’ve included some classic bouldering (free-style climbing without the use ropes) sites and some sweet spots for top-roping and lead climbing. Before climbing, you should acquaint yourself with the sport’s hazards, the appropriate gear, etiquette, and the site you’ll be visiting. If you’re a rock neophyte and you don’t have any climbing friends, several places around town offer introductory climbing courses (see the rentals section). These books will also help steer you towards some of the area’s finest spots: Climbing: Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo by Steve Tuker and Kevin Steele, and Rock Climbing Santa Barbara and Ventura by Steve Edwards. Also a big thanks to Ezra Davis for his invaluable input on climbing sites.

Lizard’s Mouth:

            Named after a gaping open-mouthed rock of the same shape….

The Playground:

            Just around the corner from Lizard’s Mouth, this spot meanders through chaparral and finally delivers you unto….

The Brickyard:

            Also in the same neighborhood, the Brickyard is much cooler than it sounds and presents perfect shade on a hot, languid afternoon of bouldering….

Painted Cave:

            For those “easy-acess” lovin’ climbers who hate to hike….

Lower San Ysidro:

            Trickier to find but well worth the time, this shady spot nestled….

Gibraltar Rock and Upper Gibraltar Rock:

            The road splits through the side of the mountain here so dramatically that is should be called….

Mountain Biking:

By Rachel S. Thurston

            This area offers some of the gnarliest mountain bike trails this side of the Continental Divide, but don’t let that deter you. As this is just a sampling of rides available, we highly recommend you check out the range of maps and guidebooks on biking in the area that is offered: Santa Barbara Mountain Bikes and Santa Barbara County Recreational Map Series Map #4: Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Routes, both by Raymond Ford, Jr.

            As for safety and etiquette…ride with bells, yield to hikers and equestrians, be aware of trail erosion (stay on the trails!), don’t ride in the wet, always wear your helmet, and be courteous. A big thanks to Bob Nisbet, Matt Collins, Mark Dunham, Steve Silva, and John Kovach for their input on the trails.

Ellwood Property:

            This undeveloped property is perfect for recreational riders who aren’t hardcore…

Romero Canyon:

            As a popular trail among downhill and cross-country bikers, Romero offers juicy vistas, frequent shade, and….

San Yisidro:

            An advanced and highly technical ride, San Ysidro can be ridden as a….

Little Pine:

            A highly rewarding and challenging cross-country ride in the Upper Santa Ynez Valley…Little Pine connects….

Camuesa Connector Loop:

            Among the gentler of the connector trails, Camuesa is strenuous with its ups and downs (12 miles in total) but only moderately technical….

Outdoor Organizations:

by Rachel S. Thurston

Whether you need a hiking kick-start or you want to brush up on some bite-size ecology, Santa Barbara abounds with outdoor organizations ready to assist. Some groups are devoted purely to educating the public about our natural resources or just getting outside to hike. Others were founded to provide individuals with opportunities to volunteer their services in conservation oriented activities. With a little help from our list, you’ll find plenty of avenues to connect with people who share your area of interest and passion for the outdoors.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden:

            This summer the SBBG is packed full of juicy opportunities for kids and adults to explore the bug and plant world….

The Museum of Natural History:

            The museum will bring the outdoor culture indoors with their “Indian Summer” theme….

Gladwin Planetarium:

            Run by the Museum of Natural History and located directly behind it, Gladwin is the only public planetarium to be found between LA and San Francisco….

Audubon Society:

            Dedicated to the conservation of species and habita, public education, and people’s enjoyment of the outdoors….

The Sierra Club:

            You don’t have to be a member to lace up your hiking boots and hang with hikers who know some of the most spectacular trails around….

The Singles’ Hikers:

            Hungry for hikes with kindred souls? This recently founded group is oriented towards a younger crowd….

Channel Islands National Park:

            Ever wanted to watch an underwater feed? Fortunately for those of us who can’t afford a weekend to the islands, the Park Service brings the sea life to us….

Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers:

            Originally founded to educate the public and to take care of the trails….

Los Padres National Forest Service:

            Besides managing the national forests, this federal agency is making a concerted effort to provide public wilderness education….

Easy Access Parks:

by Rachel S. Thurston

            Any drive around the country to some of our parks and gardens is a testimony to the rewards of living in Santa Barbara. Furthermore, you don’t have to be a triathlete to enjoy them. For those of you restricted by time and/or mobility, this area offers a vast array of places perfect for picnics, short hikes, and pure relaxation. Many areas feature facilities for the whole family as well as wheelchair access for those who require it. We’ve included some well-known parks as well as a few gems frequently overlooked in Santa Barbara.

Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden:

            Often forgotten amidst the hubbub of downtown, this lush spot is perfect for taking a picnic….

Alameda Park:

            Offering plenty of green space for throwing Frisbees with your friends, Alameda is also home to “Kids’ World.”

Toro Canyon Park:

            A magical and shady nook hidden among giant oak trees, this hideaway provides playgrounds….

Lake Cachuma Recreational Area:

            Aptly named after the Chumash village—Ah-ke-tsoom—which now rests beneath the infinite weight of reservoir water, Lake Cachuma is a favorite spot for fisherman, families, and boaters….

Tucker’s Grove (San Antonio Canyon Park)

            “Tucked” at the base of the foothills in Goleta, Tucker’s Grove has a playground, a generous lawn….

Nojoqui Falls Park:

            Actually pronounced nah-ho-ee, it has been debated that “nojoqui” either means “night hawk” or “windy valley” in the Chumash language….



Copyright Rachel S. Thurston 2010. All rights reserved.
Email: rachel@rsthurston.com
Last Updated November 22, 2010.