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).
There are several trails exploring picturesque Cold Springs Canyon in the Los Padres National Forest behind Montecito, California. As a result, there are a few junction along the way to Tangerine Falls that are important to pay attention to. 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. There is a good footpath most of the way to the base of the falls, which can be be reached by hiking up a rocky slope. There are a few paths shooting 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.
There are several short cascades in 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.
There is poison oak 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: 34.456058, -119.653302 (34° 27′ 21.80″N 119° 39′ 11.88″W)
This 7.1-mile partial loop climbs to a panoramic summit in Los Padres National Forest overlooking Montecito and Santa Barbara.
This 3.7-mile hike uses four trails to form a loop through the mountains behind Montecito, California.
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.
This easy 0.8-mile hike visits the scenic ruins of an estate home built atop the mountains behind Santa Barbara.
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.
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.
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 3.25-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.
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.