The Santa Ynez Mountains form a verdant backdrop behind Santa Barbara. One of the highest summits in the range is Montecito Peak, which offers sensational views over the coastal cities below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. The 3,214-foot peak can be reached via a demanding 7.1-mile round trip hike with 2,450 feet of elevation change. It is quite a trek, but the ever-expanding ocean views will keep you motivated along the way.
The hike begins at the bottom of Cold Springs Trail in a cozy canyon in a corner of Montecito, California. The heavily shaded trail enters Los Padres National Forest and follows the right bank of Cold Springs Creek. After a quarter-mile, the trail passes a bench and a junction with West Fork Trail, which breaks off to the left across the creek toward destinations like Tangerine Falls. For Montecito Peak, continue straight up the trail, tackling a string of switchbacks up an oak-shaded slope.
At 0.6 miles from the start, Cold Springs Trail has its first creek crossing. On the opposite bank, the trail turns sharply to the left past low-lying vinca before swinging back around to the right. After another 0.2 miles, the trail crosses the creek again (farther upstream), coming to a junction on the other side. Stay to the right to continue up Cold Springs Trail, angling east and then south, wrapping higher up the canyon wall past a couple seasonal (usually dry) streams.
The trail comes to another unmarked junction, 1.2 miles (and 700 vertical feet) from the start. Turn left here to hike up to Montecito Peak. The trail straight ahead continues along the side of the canyon and makes a quick descent to the trailhead. This is the second section of Cold Springs Loop, 0.3 miles shorter than the distance you’ve hiked so far. Take this route on the hike down to add a partial loop to the trek, cutting the total round trip distance to Montecito Peak from 7.4 miles down to 7.1 miles.
The trail above Cold Springs Loop travels uphill beneath the hike’s last shady canopy, reaching a dirt service road after another 0.35 miles. This spot offers a surprising view down the coast to the southeast. Turn left, crossing beneath a string of power lines. You will be on this wide dirt road for less than a tenth of a mile before turning left again up a dirt single track. From here, there are no more junctions to worry about until the turnoff just below the summit. There is also minimal shade from this point on as chaparral becomes the dominant vegetation.
The trail angles up a ridge south of Montecito Peak, rounding up the east side of a knoll to come to a saddle on the ridge, two miles from the start of the hike. The trail switches to the west side of the ridge and continues to climb.
After almost another mile (spent looking down over Santa Barbara), the trail crosses an overlook marked by a pair of eucalyptus trees. Take a quick break in the elusive shade, cool off in the mountain breezes, and enjoy the ocean views. Many hikers turn around right here, 700 feet below the summit for a 5.3 of 5.6-mile hike with 1,725 feet of elevation gain.
If you aren’t intimidated, continue another 0.9 to the top of Montecito Peak, a pyramid-shaped point northeast of the eucalyptus trees. Don’t be alarmed when the trail splits into two paths, as they quickly reunite. Two-thirds of a mile past the eucalyptus trees, the trail passes just below the west side of Montecito Peak. Look for a path breaking off to the right and take it. Hike up to a saddle at the north end of the summit and turn to face the short but steep march to the top. You will gain about 200 feet over the last 0.15 miles to reach the summit of Montecito Peak.
Stunning 360-degree views await at the summit. Santa Barbara is visible below to the southwest, while oil platforms and Channel Islands can be seen farther out over the Pacific Ocean. The coastal view extends a long distance to the southeast toward Ventura. There are also views to the east, north, and west over surrounding mountains and ridges in the Santa Ynez Range protected by Los Padres National Forest. There is a peak registry next to the jumble of boulders at the southwest end of the peak and a USGS marker above the eastern face.
Montecito Peak offers great views, worthy of the arduous hike. On the descent you may complete the Cold Springs Loop for a quicker route down. Start by hiking back the way you came, past the pair of eucalyptus trees and the Edison Service Road. When you reach the T-junction where you initially turned left heading uphill to the road, turn left again, this time continuing along the wall of the canyon. You will immediately pass a window out the mouth of Cold Springs Canyon toward the Pacific.
Stay straight (to the right) through a junction after less than a tenth of a mile, passing an alternative route up to the Edison Service Road. After another half mile, stay to the right again through two more junctions and descend the final 0.4 miles to the end of the trail, located about five feet from the start of Cold Springs Trail where the hike began.
Montecito Peak presents a challenging day hike with great coastal views. While this trail passes through Los Padres National Forest, no adventure pass is required to park at the trailhead. Dogs are welcome on leashes. No fee or permit is required to hike Cold Springs Trail to Montecito Peak, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take exit 94A off the 101 Freeway on Olive Mill Road in Montecito and drive toward the mountains. Continue up Olive Mill Road as it turns into Hot Springs Road. Two miles from the freeway, turn left on Mountain Drive. Drive 1 mile to a point where Cold Springs Creek flows over the road. Park here and find the wooden sign marking the start of Cold Springs Trail (on the right side of the road, just before the creek).
Trailhead address: East Mountain Drive, Montecito, CA 93108
Trailhead coordinates: 34.456058, -119.653302 (34° 27′ 21.80″N 119° 39′ 11.88″W)
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