Knapps Castle Trail Santa Barbara ruins Camino Cielo hike

In the mountains above Santa Barbara, there is a plot of privately owned land surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest. On that land stand the remains of a palatial estate that burned down seventy years ago, the so-called Knapp’s Castle. To the ruins and back is a 0.8-mile round trip hike with 50 feet of elevation change. The majestic views from this unique spot far exceed the effort.

From East Camino Cielo at an elevation of 2,900 feet, take an unmarked dirt road down the north side of the mountain. After a quarter mile, as Knapp’s Castle comes into view, turn right, passing through a gate to reach the ruins.

Knapps Castle
The ruins of Knapp’s Castle

Stride down the imperial landing overlooking the Santa Ynez River Canyon, Lake Cachuma, and the opposing peaks of the San Rafael Mountains. Explore the enduring remains of Knapp’s Castle, which include stone steps, archways, and fireplaces. Several pieces still stand from the impressive home built in 1916 for George Knapp, a former chairman for Union Carbide.

Look northwest through a trio of stone arches toward Lake Cachuma, a reservoir that did not exist when Knapp’s Castle was built or burned. While the view has certainly changed, this is still a breathtaking place to build a home or take a hike. When you have finished checking out the ruins, return the way you came.

Knapps Castle
Looking out through the archways

As of June 2011, there is a construction notice at the trailhead. This has alarmed the local hiking community, which has enjoyed longstanding access to the privately owned ruins. According to the Santa Barbara Independent, the Santa Barbara County Planning Department issued a “stop work” order on any construction at Knapp’s Castle at the beginning of 2011. Based on the newly posted notice, it seems that changes to the ruins may be coming. Take a hike to Knapp’s Castle before that happens. No permit is required to visit the ruins other than a national forest adventure pass, which you must display on your vehicle to park at the trailhead.

To get to the trailhead: From the 101 Freeway in Santa Barbara, take Route 154 north for ten miles. At the top of the mountain, turn right on East Camino Cielo and drive three miles east to a small pullout on the right opposite the gated dirt road on the left (the start of the trail). The trailhead is located on a C-shaped bend in East Camino Cielo, one mile past Painted Cave Road, the turn off for Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park.

Trailhead address: East Camino Cielo (Forest Route 5N12), Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Trailhead coordinates: 34.518155, -119.793234

Use the map below to create your own directions:


View Central Coast Hikes in a larger map

Photos

Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail  Knapps Castle Trail 

These photos were taken in June of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Chumash Painted CaveChumash Painted Cave
This very short trail looks in on Native American rock art in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Lizards Mouth TrailLizard’s Mouth
This half-mile hike visits a unique rock formation with amazing views over Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
Jesusita Trail to Inspiration PointJesusita Trail to Inspiration Point
This 7.7-mile round trip hike ascends 1,400 feet to a landing in the Santa Ynez Mountains with a panoramic view over Santa Barbara.
Tequepis TrailTequepis Trail
This invigorating 8.4-mile round trip hike offers views of Lake Cachuma as it climbs the Santa Ynez mountains to views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
Nojoqui FallsNojoqui Falls
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
Gaviota Peak HikeGaviota Peak
This 6.5-mile loop mounts a 2,458-foot summit two miles from the Pacific and then descends Trespass Trail to explore the wilds of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Gaviota Wind Caves TrailGaviota Wind Caves
This 2.5-mile hike just off the 101 Freeway visits wind-carved caves in Gaviota State Park with great ocean views.
Tangerine Falls TrailTangerine Falls
This 2.5-mile hike visits a beautiful waterfall on the edge of Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
Montecito Peak TrailMontecito Peak
This 7.1-mile partial loop climbs to a panoramic summit in Los Padres National Forest overlooking Montecito and Santa Barbara.
McMenemy Overlook TrailMcMenemy Overlook
This 3.7-mile hike uses four trails to form a loop through the mountains behind Montecito, California.
Central Coast TrailMore Central Coast Hikes
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
Similar Trails
Solstice Canyon hikeSolstice Canyon
This easy and level 2.6-mile out and back hike visits the ruins of a burned down ranch and a small waterfall.
Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon TrailMurphy Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains
This 3.85-mile loop descending from Sullivan Ridge Fire Road into Rustic Canyon, where hikers can visit abandoned buildings once occupied by Nazi Sympathizers.
Echo Mountain hikeEcho Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains
This 5.8-mile hike visits a historic railway and ruins from a century old resort overlooking Pasadena.
Wall Street Mill trailWall Street Mill in Joshua Tree National Park
This level 1.55 to 2.15-mile hike visits a well-reserved gold mill, exploring the mining history of Joshua Tree National Park.

10 Comments on Knapp’s Castle in Santa Barbara

  1. Joshua Erdman says:

    This hike to Knapp castle is still valid. Construction has stopped

  2. Rocio says:

    Is there any way of contacting the owner of the property to make sure it is okay with him/her if we hike all the way up to the castle? I don’t want to get arrested for trespassing.

  3. Katie says:

    Does anyone know is Knapp’s Castle is open as of July 2013?! My finace and I are headed to the area and would love to make the hike! Any information would be so very appreciated! I keep seeing mixed signals about wether it’s open or closed…

  4. Gillian says:

    are we allowed to hike all the way up to the ruins? how do we get a national forest adventure pass? are we allowed to take pictures at the ruins? because i want to get a few photos for my senior portraits done here! please let me know!!!! any info is greatly appreciated!!!

  5. Adrianna says:

    Is there any information on access to this as of now?

  6. Chris says:

    Hiked it yesterday. Still open to public!

  7. BinaClimbsMountains says:

    I just got back from the mountain and it is AMAZING!! From the bottom to the top was about 3.7 miles of steep incline…so exausting but well worth it. It is open to the public and there is contact information at the top about camping on the property…..bring lots of water and good luck if you are starting from the bottom………

Ask a question or share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *