in Los Padres National Forest
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).
Several trails explore picturesque Cold Springs Canyon in the Los Padres National Forest behind Montecito, California. As a result, pay attention to a few important junction along the way to Tangerine Falls. 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. A a good footpath leads most of the way to the base of the falls, which can be be reached by hiking up a rocky slope. A few paths shoot 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.
Several short cascades decorate 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.
Poison oak pops up 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 Highway 101 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: 34.45605, -119.6533 (34° 27′ 21.8″N 119° 39′ 11.9″W)
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Or view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
|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.
|Ennisbrook Trail |
This easy 1.85-mile lollipop loop crosses charming stone bridges over San Ysidro Creek to explore a lush oak forest that is flooded by nasturtiums in the spring.
|Carpinteria Bluffs Trail to Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook |
This 1 to 2-mile hike goes from Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve to a viewing area above a harbor seal rookery, offering beach access and beautiful oceanfront hiking.
|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.
|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.
|Knapp's Castle |
This easy 0.8-mile hike visits the scenic ruins of an estate home built atop the mountains behind Santa Barbara.
|Lizard's Mouth |
This half-mile hike visits a unique rock formation with amazing views over Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
|Gaviota Wind Caves |
This 2.5-mile hike just off Highway 101 visits wind-carved caves in Gaviota State Park with great ocean views.
|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.
|Rose Valley Falls |
This 1-mile round trip trail leads to the lower tier of a lovely two-tier 300-foot waterfall.
|More Central Coast Hikes |
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
|Sturtevant Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains |
This 3.3-mile hike visits a 60-foot waterfall and a lush cottage-lined canyon.
|Fish Canyon Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains |
This 4.8-mile round trip hike leaves from an active rock quarry and progresses up a beautiful canyon to a mesmerizing multi-tiered waterfall.
|Escondido Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains |
This 3.8-mile out and back hike visits a 200-foot waterfall that is split into two tiers. The upper tier is 150 feet tall and stunning after a rainstorm.
|Tokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park |
This 4.2-mile hike reaches the base of the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park.
|Marble Falls in Sequoia National Park |
This 8-mile hike takes a flower-lined path up a mountain canyon to a powerful waterfall.
|Salmon Creek Falls |
This short hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
|McWay Falls |
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
Would this trail be suitable for horses?
No. I don’t believe horses are allow in this area.
Has anyone hiked it recently? Is now a good time of year or is it dried out?
Hiked this today. Completely dry, no water falls at all. The view of the Channel Islands is so worth the hike though.
True. Went with my husband and the dogs this past weekend..its a good hike but try not to get stung ?
I wonder if dogs are allowed in the park, and how much is the charge for camping?
Dogs are allowed off leash if they are still under control. There are doggie bags at the beginning of the trail. PLEASE use one. I had to use our subway sandwich bag to pick up a pile right in the MIDDLE of the trail. And I didn’t bring a dog.
does anyone know if there is a waterfall this time of the year? im going laber day weekend? please give me heads up
PLEASE be careful hiking this trail! If you haven’t heard, two young people, a young man and woman in their 20s, had a tragic accident here yesterday. The young man fell to his death and the young woman (friends daughter) is in the hospital with multiple fractures. Cell phone coverage is unavailable in this area. If hikers hadn’t found the young woman almost 24 hours later, stranded, it could have been worse. Please take care!
What part of this trail is dangerous?
Good question!! Please provide info on where it is unsafe. Does anyone know if it is wet right now?
The main part that is dangerous is the cross over to the falls. As you arrive in the area…you come up over a hill top peak…looking directly at the falls…you then have to travel down about 3 meters towards the dirt path that is level with the base of the falls…that path leads to a rock outcrop that you must cross in order to get in the base of the falls. That rock outcrop has a small 4-5inch crevas that you must walk down to get to the lower base about 2 meters. Some people try to go face forward but you cannot get your body to move your feet in to the right step location. The better way is to scale this part backwards like descending a ladder. Allow your feet to find the foothold. It takes some experience.Once you get to the base you then cross a water overflow and on to the other rocks that you see in the photos above. If you go face forward you risk the chance of falling over 15 meters over the side and rolling down the falls.
The only other location would be on the right side of the falls where a trail leads to the top. It is no longer safely accessible and no one should ever try to attempt it.
[…] More information: Trip descriptions here […]
[…] abroad in Australia with me) and we decided to head down toward Montecito and hike to the gorgeous Tangerine Falls. This is one of my favorite hikes and the last time I had gone up to the top there was a beautiful […]
Does anyone know if this area was effected by the fires?
Hello- you should really update this and other hikes in Montecito given the catastrophic mud slides in Jan 2018, which fully changed all of our canyons and made many spots dangerous. I just read that three women had to be rescued trying to find the falls. Thanks