Tequepis Trail begins near the shores of Lake Cachuma and ascends the north side of the Santa Ynez Mountains behind Santa Barbara. The trail up offers views of the lake and valley, and there are broader ocean views from the top. This is an invigorating 8.4-mile round trip hike with 2,300 feet of elevation gain.
To reach Tequepis Trail, start at the free parking lot at the entrance of Circle V Camp. Follow the dirt road straight through the camp past a swimming pool and bunkhouses. After 0.2 miles, step over Tequepis Creek and pass through a large metal gate. This is the boundary of the Los Padres National Forest and the start of Tequepis Trail.
Continue south on the wide gravel road through two early junctions. A tenth of a mile past the gate, go straight, or slightly to the right, past an unmarked road. Then 0.2 miles later, follow the sign to the left at a second intersection. Don’t worry. Beyond this point, there are no more junction to worry about until you reach the top.
Abundant shade covers the trail as you ascend gradually uphill along the bank of a seasonal toward the back of Tequepis Canyon. The trail dwindles from a service road to a single track. After 1.1 miles, you will reach a sign at a sharp left turn in the trail. This is the start of the switchbacks, three miles and 1,750 vertical feet below the top of the trail.
Less than half a mile past the sign, the trail leaves the shade of the forest for sun-exposed chaparral covered slopes. Climb a steep bit of trail (the steepest of the hike) before returning to more gradual terrain. The climb continues in earnest, with a couple more steep sections breaking up the steady grade. The ascent is relentless, but the views only improve as you climb. The missing shade is replaced by sweeping sights of Lake Cachuma and the surrounding area. The lush slopes make Tequepis Trail a hummingbird haven. Unfortunately, the trail is also home to enormous, almost bird-sized, mosquitoes. Persevere past these pests up the long series of switchbacks. This nonstop climb to the top in a fulfilling exercise of endurance.
Just below the top of the trail, you will pass through a mixed forest of tall trees and ferns. As you crest the ridge of the mountain, the vegetation gives way to a grassy clearing with oceanic views. The moment the trail stops climbing, it shrinks and becomes hard to follow. A faint path to the left crosses through the grasses down to Camino Cielo, a scenic fire road along the top of the range. If you intend to turn around at the top of the trail, you don’t have to worry about this path. Simply walk across the grass to the south and lose yourself in the view of Santa Barbara and the ocean beyond. On a typical day the Channel Islands can be seen on the horizon.
After hiking 4.2 miles with 2,300 feet of elevation gain, you may be wishing you were standing on a summit (getting that satisfaction that only a peak can provide), but Tequepis Trail ends at a saddle east of Broadcast Peak (albeit a scenic one). Though the mountaintop looks deceptively near, there is no direct path up the radio-towered peak, making it a 1.5-mile add-on, with an additional 475 vertical feet. To summit Broadcast Peak, follow Camino Cielo to the west. On the far side of the summit, make the first right up a service road to the 4,025-foot summit. To the west, Camino Cielo continues to Santa Ynez Peak and farther down the range.
A circle around the installations at the summit offers views in every direction. While this extension provides grander views than the top of Tequepis Trail, it expands the hike to 11.5 miles — quite a lot for a day hike. If you are interested in experiencing westerly views without all the hiking, consider Lizard’s Mouth, a short trail just of Camino Cielo with almost no elevation gain.
Whether you extend the hike or not, once you turn around, it is all downhill! The track that took two hours to climb, will now take just an hour and a half to descend. This still gives you plenty of time to enjoy the fine views of the reservoir below and the San Rafael Mountains to the north. There is no fee or permit to hike Tequepis Trail, so get out and enjoy.
To get to the trailhead: From Santa Barbara, take the 154 north toward Lake Cachuma. Continue 7.7 miles past Cold Springs Arch Bridge and turn left at the sign for Circle V Ranch. This is the second turnoff with a sign for Camp Allegre. If you reach the entrance for Lake Cachuma Recreation Area, you have gone half a mile to far. From the turnoff, take the road to the left and drive 1.3 miles to the parking lot at the end of the road outside Circle V Camp – Saint Vincent de Paul Camp.
Trailhead address: Forest Route 6N04, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Trailhead coordinates: 34.551893, -119.955904 (34° 33′ 06.81″N 119° 57′ 21.25″W)
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