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.
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.
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 (34° 31′ 05.35″N 119° 47′ 35.64″W)
Use the map below to create your own directions:
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