The Gaviota Wind Caves are a sandstone formation located a mile from the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Ynez Mountains west of Santa Barbara. The hike to the wind-swept caves is 2.5 miles round trip with 600 feet of elevation gain.
One good thing about the Gaviota Wild Caves is that they are easy to get to from the 101. In fact, the wind caves can be seen from the freeway.
The bad thing is that the freeway can be also seen from the wind caves, and the sound of passing traffic follows hikers for the entire trail. The other unfortunate thing is that the first half of the trail is paved, which is not the preferred surface for hiking. Past the pavement, the trail becomes a single track that climbs rapidly to a ridge running down from the caves. This part of the hike is much more pleasant and the Gaviota Wind Caves are a great place to explore, boasting fine views of the mountains and sea.
From the trailhead, start north on the paved trail running parallel to the 101 and Gaviota Beach Road. Just after the road bends to the right, make a left turn on to a narrow dirt path breaking off through high grasses, about an 1/8 of a mile before the end of the pavement. Look up and you can trace the trail over the ridge to the west toward the visible wind caves.
In the spring, the chest-high Black Mustard is gilded by bright yellow flowers. It is recommended that you wear long pants or be prepare to get a little scratched and covered in pollen on this hike. After gaining the ridge, turn left toward the exposed pocked sandstone. There are a few other paths in this area, so follow the most worn trail straight up to the wind caves.
Step inside the opening in the lower set of caves before continuing on to the larger formation. A path around the west side of the rock leads to the top of the wind caves, where there is an eyelet piercing the rock that can be seen from below. Inside the opening on the far side of this window, you will find the trail registry canister. Have a seat here and enjoy the fine view.
Climb around the wind-carved caves, before returning the way your came. For a stunning nearby trail, check out Gaviota Peak. For camping, visit the adjacent Gaviota State Park Campground. Dogs are not allowed on this hike. No fee or permit is required to hike to the Gaviota Wind Caves in Gaviota State Park, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Santa Barbara, travel west for 30 miles on Highway 101. Take the Gaviota Beach Road Exit (sign reads Gaviota State Beach), which is just before the rest area and the Gaviota Tunnel en route to Los Olivos. Drive down Gaviota Beach Road and bear right past the park entrance onto Hollister Ranch Road, which goes up the hill to the right. Almost immediately, the road turns to the right and there are gravel turnouts on both sides of the road. Park here. The trailhead is on the right next to a mountain lion warning sign.
Trailhead address: Hollister Ranch Road, Gaviota State Park, Goleta, CA 93117
Trailhead coordinates: 34.47172, -120.2297 (34° 28′ 18.2″N 120° 13′ 46.9″W)
|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 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 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.
|Nojoqui Falls |
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|Refugio State Beach Campground |
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|El Capitán State Beach Campground |
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