Gaviota Peak sits at the lofty west end of the Santa Ynez Mountains behind Santa Barbara. The 2,458-foot peak is just two miles from the Pacific Ocean, putting it in prime position to offer eye-popping views. There are two routes to the summit from the trailhead in Gaviota State Park. The traditional Gaviota Peak Trail is 3.15 miles one-way, while the immensely scenic Trespass Trail is 3.35 miles one-way, creating a superb 6.5-mile loop with 2,150 feet of elevation gain.
From the trailhead cul-de-sac just off Highway 101 in Gaviota State Park, begin hiking up the wide fire road toward Gaviota Peak. The road climbs 150 feet over the first quarter mile to a junction with Trespass Trail. From here you may head left or right to reach the peak. Trespass Trail is a narrow singe-track with stunning ocean views, while Gaviota Peak Trail offers underwhelming (though not un-enjoyable) inland views from a broad fire road. If you could only hike one trail, Trespass Trail would be the way to go. Since you can visit Gaviota Peak as a loop, hike up on the fire road and then come down on Trespass Trail, enjoying the views looking out from the mountain.
Turn left up the fire road toward Gaviota Peak and Gaviota Hot Springs. After a short distance, the road crosses a creek and comes to a junction with a single-track on the right that heads up to the hot springs, reaching it after 0.1 miles. The milky blue pool attracts bathers who relish a dip in the naturally warm sulfur spring waters.
Gaviota Peak Trail continues past the junction, actually losing elevation for perhaps the only time on the trail, swinging out across a grass field before aiming up the mountain again. The road finds shade and passes through a metal gate, 0.9 miles from the start. Continue up Gaviota Peak Trail, which passes in and out of shade as it unrelentingly picks up elevation.
After ascending a thousand feet over the first 1.6 miles, the trail enters Los Padres National Forest. A sliver of the Pacific Ocean comes into view to the west beyond the hills of Lompoc as the road continues to climb, putting on another thousand feet over the next 1.4 miles. Come to a T-junction in the saddle northeast of Gaviota Peak. The junction greets hikers with a grand view down the other side of the ridge over a stunning stretch of coastline spanning east toward Santa Barbara. This should propel you on to the panoramic views at the summit. Turn right and finish the ascent, tackling the final 0.17 miles to the top of Gaviota Peak.
Gaviota Peak offers breathtaking views up and down the coast. You can look east clear across Santa Barbara, and west across Lompoc toward Point Conception. In between is vast sea adorned by Channel Islands that hover on the horizon. To the north, gentle rolling hills frame the fertile Santa Ynez Valley. And the view to the east, across the Santa Ynez Mountains, that’s pretty good too… Indeed, the 2,458-foot Gaviota Peak rises mightily over a beautiful region of California.
Those descending on Trespass Trail will find it completely different from the ascent. Trespass Trail is narrow, overgrown, and unmaintained. Definitely wear long pants if you trek this way or your legs will get scraped! Pick up the single-track heading southwest off the summit and prepare for sensational views. The landscape surrounding this trail is so pristine and wild, it is hard to believe you are just a couple miles from a major freeway.
Wildfire-scorched trees on the upper slopes are surrounded by thriving underbrush. Orange boulders dot the mountainside that rises high above the blue waters of the Pacific. The trail might not be easy going, but the views are worth it. After 1/3 of a mile, the trail reaches a grassy slope. The scenery remain tremendous as the narrow track descends another 2/3 of a mile to the bottom of a ravine, at an elevation of 1,400 feet. The trail turns to the right, heading west for 0.7 miles to a gate across the trail.
Why the gate? The land on this side of the fence is owned by ranchers who purchased the property with a built-in agreement that the public be granted continued access to the trail, hence the name Trespass Trail because you are a welcome trespasser. Pass through the gate, re-latching it as you go, and return to Gaviota State Park. The rough dirt path dissects a few more patches of high brush over the next half mile before coming clear and widening to a jeep trail that allows brisker hiking across a grassy slope. Shortly after Trespass Trail widens, you will pass the top of Tunnel View Trail on the left, an alternate route back that offers a view of the Gaviota Tunnel.
Look down on Highway 101, literally of course, as you hike the final mile of Trespass Trail, wrapping around the base of Gaviota Peak back to the junction near the start of the hike. If your body needs a soak, turn right to hike up to the hot springs. Otherwise, turn left and descend a quarter mile to the trailhead, completing this 6.5-mile loop with 2,150 feet of elevation change.
Great exercise and unbelievable views make this a must-do hike on California’s central coast. Be sure to wear long pants, at least for Trespass Trail, or the incredible track will be less of a joy. Dogs are not allowed. There is a $2 fee to park at the trailhead. Bring exact change, because this is a self-fee area. If that price is too steep for you, of if you are just looking for a nearby trails that is less steep, check out Nojoqui Falls and the Gaviota Wind Caves.
To get to the trailhead: From Santa Barbara, drive 30 miles west on Highway 101. When the freeway turns inland, pass the Gaviota Rest Area and drive 1.5 miles to the next exit (132) labeled California One (Lompoc / Vandenberg AFB). At the top of the ramp, turn right and make another immediate right on the unnamed Gaviota Park Boundary Road. Continue 1/3 of a mile to the cul-de-sac at road’s end.
From Buellton to the north, take the 101 South for 8 miles to the exit for California One. Turn left across the freeway and make a right on the frontage road to the trailhead.
Trailhead address: Gaviota Park Boundary Road, Goleta, CA 93117
Trailhead coordinates: 34.504598, -120.2259 (34° 30′ 16.55″N 120° 13′ 33.23″W)
|Gaviota Hot Springs|
This short hike visits a warm hot springs along the trail to Gaviota Peak in Gaviota State Park.
|Tunnel View and Trespass Trails Loop|
This 2.6-mile loop steals a view over Highway 101 and the Gaviota Tunnel.
|Gaviota Pass Overlook Loop|
This 6.5-mile loop tours scenic ridges in Gaviota State Park to arrive at a soaring overlook above the Gaviota Tunnel.
|Gaviota Wind Caves|
This 2.5-mile hike just off Highway 101 visits wind-carved caves in Gaviota State Park with great ocean views.
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
|More Central Coast Hikes|
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
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|Cerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park|
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|Gaviota State Park Campground|
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|Refugio State Beach Campground|
This 67-site campground is a great oceanfront camping destination along the coast west of Santa Barbara, just three miles from El Capitán State Beach.
|El Capitán State Beach Campground|
This 132-site campground offers oceanfront camping along the coast west of Santa Barbara, just three miles from Refugio State Beach.