Knapps Castle Trail Santa Barbara ruins Camino Cielo hike

In the mountains above Santa Barbara, 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.

Knapps Castle
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.

Knapps Castle
Looking out through the archways

In 2011, a construction notice was posted at the trailhead. This 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 posted notice, it is possible that changes to the ruins could come in the future.

Hike to Knapp’s Castle while you can. No permit is required to visit the ruins. You may need to display a National Forest Adventure Pass to park a vehicle to park at the trailhead.

To get to the trailhead: From Highway 101 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 turnout 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)

Trail Map
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Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.

Photos

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These photos were taken in June of 2011. Click to enlarge.
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Tagged with · Los Padres National Forest · Ruins · Santa Ynez Mountains
Distance: 0.8 miles · Elevation change: 50 feet

16 Comments on Knapp’s Castle in Santa Barbara

  1. Joshua Erdman says:

    This hike to Knapp castle is still valid. Construction has stopped

  2. Rocio says:

    Is there any way of contacting the owner of the property to make sure it is okay with him/her if we hike all the way up to the castle? I don’t want to get arrested for trespassing.

  3. Katie says:

    Does anyone know is Knapp’s Castle is open as of July 2013?! My finace and I are headed to the area and would love to make the hike! Any information would be so very appreciated! I keep seeing mixed signals about wether it’s open or closed…

  4. Gillian says:

    are we allowed to hike all the way up to the ruins? how do we get a national forest adventure pass? are we allowed to take pictures at the ruins? because i want to get a few photos for my senior portraits done here! please let me know!!!! any info is greatly appreciated!!!

  5. Adrianna says:

    Is there any information on access to this as of now?

  6. Chris says:

    Hiked it yesterday. Still open to public!

  7. BinaClimbsMountains says:

    I just got back from the mountain and it is AMAZING!! From the bottom to the top was about 3.7 miles of steep incline…so exausting but well worth it. It is open to the public and there is contact information at the top about camping on the property…..bring lots of water and good luck if you are starting from the bottom………

  8. […] information: Trip descriptions here […]

  9. […] Knapp’s Castle East Camino Cielo (Forest Route 5N12) Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara, CA 93105 […]

  10. Jeremy says:

    I loved it here! It was really peaceful. I made a little video with the video shots I got!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AdNX_NVlvo

  11. […] views of the mountains or a spectacular sunset. If you want a bit of a challenge, try to find the Knapps Castle trail in the Los Padres national forest.  Panoramic views and an adorable photo-op among the […]

  12. Cat stein says:

    What is the current phone number to get a hiking pass to visit Knapps Castle? I am aware that people also need to book photoshoots before assuming it is free! This is a private property afterall. Thank you

    • Nicole says:

      I too am looking for any contact info for Knapp’s Castle. I was told it’s the number for a groundskeeper who overlooks the trail but have yet to be able to find any way to contact him…

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