Santa Barbarans and our visitors are blessed by a myriad of trails weaving their way through what we refer to as the Front Country, the ocean-facing slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains. One of the interesting features of our coast range is that it runs from east to west, which is unique in the United States. The Santa Ynez Fault, which uplifted our mountains over 5 million years ago, is still considered active.
Miles of trails are easily accessed from public trail heads and depending on the trail and the day, are frequented by some combination of hikers, trail runners, horseback riders, dog-walkers and mountain bikers. There is a diversity of choices as the trails vary in steepness, exposure to sun, presence of water, popularity and scenic views.
A truly iconic spot for Santa Barbara hikers is the exposed clearing at Saddlerock 2.75 miles from the trailhead. An almost 180 degree ocean view coupled with a large rock formation perfect for perching entices people daily. Another fun not-so-secret? Hikers regularly arrange rocks in different large shapes like peace signs and hearts that are more than 40 feet across. There have even been marriage proposals spelled out in rocks.
This trail recently blossomed in popularity as yarn bomber Stephen Duneier (with the help of several others) knitted a colorful cover for Saddlerock itself. Yarn bombing is usually a guerilla act of wrapping a tree, a pole, a bench or in this case a giant rock with knitted or crocheted covering. While the art only lasted 9 nine days, the crowds were wowed and left asking for more.
The trail is steep at times but the views from the top are magnificent. On a clear day the Channel Islands emerge from the horizon and it feels like you can see all the way to Los Angeles to the south. If you are feeling spry, the trail does not end there. Continue on your way to the fire road (cat way, if you're a local) and you can turn your adventure into a 6-mile loop also known as the Girard Loop.
Incredible Saddlerock Vista. Photo credit: Courtney Dietz.
To find the trailhead, exit Highway 101 at Hot Springs Road and head towards the mountains and away from the coast. Turn left at East Valley Road. Trailhead is 0.2 miles on your right.