After a spring rain, the 100-foot Tangerine Falls blooms into the most beautiful waterfall in Santa Barbara. The seasonal waterfall dries out for much of the year, but is spectacular at the peak of the rainy season. The 2.5-mile excursion to Tangerine Falls has 875 feet of elevation gain and everything a hiker could want — a soothing creek, plenty of shade, ocean views, and even a bit of off-trail rock hopping and scrambling (not to mention an exceptional waterfall).
There are several trails exploring picturesque Cold Springs Canyon in the Los Padres National Forest behind Montecito, California. As a result, there are a few junction along the way to Tangerine Falls that are important to pay attention to. The first junction is the only one that is marked. Hike a quarter mile up East Fork Trail, and turn left, crossing the creek just below a wooden bench on to West Fork Trail (by continuing straight, you could hike up to Montecito Peak).
Follow this trail for another 0.6 of a mile as it climbs along the bank on the left side of the creek. An opening in the canopy provides views up canyon toward Tangerine Falls and down the canyon toward the ocean. The trail descends closer to the creek, passing a white sign on the left, before coming to an unmarked junction. West Fork Trail curves uphill to the left, but turn right here, descending to the creek on the unmaintained but well-worn Middle Fork Trail.
You are now just above the confluence of the West Fork and the Middle Fork of Cold Springs Creek. The waterfall is on the middle fork, so cross over the creek in front of you, using the strong roots to climb the opposing bank up to Middle Fork Trail.
After a few hundred feet, you will hit one last junction. The main trail bends to the left, leaving the creek. Continue straight ahead along the sorrel-covered bank above the creek to reach the falls. The track will cross the creek a couple times, ultimately finishing on the left side of the creek. There is a good footpath most of the way to the base of the falls, which can be be reached by hiking up a rocky slope. There are a few paths shooting off from the creek that can lead to unnecessary rock. If you find yourself getting into rough terrain, backtrack or cross the creek to find the trail again.
There are several short cascades in the creek below Tangerine Falls. Next to one of them, the path crosses a steep rock face en route to more even footing. When the water level is high, this is the trickiest part of the hike. A cardio-climb over boulders takes you up to the falls itself.
In its full glory, Tangerine Falls is magnificent. The silky waters slide down a steep face of pink and brown sandstone. As if that weren’t enough, the waterfall also offers a great view down the canyon toward the Pacific. Relax and enjoy Tangerine Falls, or more formally, West Fork Cold Springs Falls, before returning the way your came.
There is poison oak along the trail, so long pants are recommended. No fee or permit is required to hike to Tangerine Falls in Los Padres National Forest, 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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