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.
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.
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)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
|Chumash Painted Cave |
This very short trail looks in on Native American rock art in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
|Lizard's Mouth |
This half-mile hike visits a unique rock formation with amazing views over Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
|Inspiration Point from San Roque Road |
This 7.55 to 7.95-mile round trip hike ascends 1,400 feet up the western side of Jesusita Trail to a panoramic perch in the Santa Ynez Mountains with great views over Santa Barbara.
|Inspiration Point from Tunnel Road |
This 3.75-mile round trip combines Tunnel Trail and Jesusita Trail to ascend Mission Canyon to a sweeping viewpoint that looks down over Santa Barbara and up into the Santa Ynez Mountains.
|Tequepis Trail |
This invigorating 8.4-mile round trip hike offers views of Lake Cachuma as it climbs the Santa Ynez mountains to views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
|Nojoqui Falls |
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
|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 Wind Caves |
This 2.5-mile hike just off Highway 101 visits wind-carved caves in Gaviota State Park with great ocean views.
|Tangerine Falls |
This 2.5-mile hike visits a beautiful waterfall on the edge of Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
|Montecito Peak |
This 7.1-mile partial loop climbs to a panoramic summit in Los Padres National Forest overlooking Montecito and Santa Barbara.
|McMenemy Overlook |
This 3.7-mile hike uses four trails to form a loop through the mountains behind Montecito, California.
|More Central Coast Hikes |
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
|Solstice Canyon |
This easy and level 2.6-mile out and back hike visits the ruins of a burned down ranch and a small waterfall.
|Murphy Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains |
This 3.85-mile loop descending from Sullivan Ridge Fire Road into Rustic Canyon, where hikers can visit abandoned buildings once occupied by Nazi Sympathizers.
|Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains |
This 5.8-mile hike visits a historic railway and ruins from a century old resort overlooking Pasadena.
|Wall Street Mill in Joshua Tree National Park |
This level 1.55 to 2.15-mile hike visits a well-reserved gold mill, exploring the mining history of Joshua Tree National Park.