Cachuma Lake, besides storing an important part of Santa Barbara’s water supply, is a popular weekend destination for Southland anglers, campers, bird watchers and hikers.
The Trailmaster recommends that after you hit the trail, you board a boat. Cachuma Lake’s naturalist-led cruises explore the lake’s waterfowl and wildlife. Join a tour in winter and you’ll likely sight the migrating bald eagles that take up temporary residence at the lake.
While touring and hiking, you’ll be delighted by the great multitude of birds—the flocks of geese taking flight or the clouds of canvasbacks traveling in long, V-shaped formations. You’re almost certain to see the canvasback, a diving duck with a white back, rust-red head and long black bill. Likewise the bufflehead, one of the smallest diving ducks, a chubby white fellow with a black back that buzzes more like a fly than a bird.
The lake’s longest-legged resident is the great blue heron. Its long neck, regal bearing, great size and its habit of standing motionless for long periods on one leg makes it an easy photo target.
Cachuma Lake’s trail system is not extensive but does offer a unique perspective on the lake and its many species of waterfowl. Those bird watchers who hit the trail will glimpse numerous perching birds in the park’s oak woodland: acorn woodpeckers, Western bluebirds, goldfinches, juncos and lots of sparrows.
The lake’s Nature Center, headquartered in a 1930s ranch house, has displays about the ecology and history of the Santa Ynez Valley. Exhibits highlight birds, fish, local flora, and the native Chumash who once lived where the lake is today.
The park’s best trail is the Sweetwater, which meanders lakeside through an oak woodland to a vista point for a commanding panorama of Cachuma. Oak Canyon Trail, a nature trail, extends 0.75 mile from the Nature Center to the Sweetwater Trail.
From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on Highway 154 and drive 20 miles to the lake. Past the entry kiosk, turn left and follow the signs a half mile to Harvey Cove, where you’ll find parking for a dozen cars and signed Sweetwater Trail.
The first one hundred yards of trail is a paved wheelchair-access route that leads to an oak-shaded picnic area and the Harvey Cove dock. From here, a dirt path follows the far side of the cove for 0.25 mile before angling left into a handsome oak woodland.
A bit more than a mile’s hike brings you to Sweetwater Cove, a tiny picnic area perched above the lake. The path joins a dirt road then, as it approaches Highway 154, resumes as a foot¬path that yo-yos up and down through oak forest before delivering you to Vista Point.
Enjoy the commanding view of Cachuma Lake, bordered on the south by the Santa Ynez Mountains, the north by the San Rafael range, then return the way you came.
Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my HIKE Santa Barbara Pocket Guide available from The Trailmaster Store