Cold Spring Canyon’s near-wilderness nature is all the more surprising when considering its location—scarcely a mile as the orange-crowned warbler flies from the villas of the rich and famous, and just two miles from Montecito’s boutiques and bistros.
“Our favorite route to the main ridge was by a way called the Cold Spring Trail,” wrote Stewart Edward in his 1906 classic, The Mountains. “We used to enjoy taking visitors up it, mainly because you come on the top suddenly, without warning. Then we collected remarks. Everybody, even the most stolid, said something.”
Cold Spring Trail begins by the alder-shaded, year-round creek, then rises out of the canyon for fine coastal views. Options abound.
From Highway 101 in Montecito, a few miles south of Santa Barbara, exit on Hot Springs Road and proceed toward the foothills for 2.5 miles to Mountain Drive. Turn left. A mile’s travel on Mountain Drive brings you to the Cold Springs trailhead, which begins just east of the creek.
The path rises briefly through oak woodland, then returns to the creek. On your left, 0.25 mile from the trailhead, is a junction with West Fork Trail. (See hike description) East Fork Trail rises up the canyon wall and rejoins the creek 0.5 mile later. Look for a fine swimming hole below you to the right. The trail then switchbacks moderately out of the canyon to Montecito Overlook. Enjoy the view of the Santa Barbara coastline and the Channel Islands.
If you’d like to loop back to the trailhead via Hot Springs Canyon, you have two options. Easiest way is to take the Edison fire road and make a steep one-mile descent into that canyon. A more challenging route is to ascend Cold Springs Trail another 0.25 mile or so and look for an unsigned connector trail on the right. This path leads down to the ruins of the old Hot Springs Hotel (see Hot Springs Canyon description). Once at the bottom of the canyon, you’ll descend a fire road to a vehicle gate, then follow a footpath 0.5 mile around and through a residen¬tial area down to Mountain Drive. A mile’s walk returns you to the Cold Spring trailhead.
From the junction with the Hot Springs connector trail, Cold Spring Trail switchbacks up-canyon and offers fine coastal views. A one-mile climb brings you to two eucalyptus trees (about the only shade en route!) and another 0.75 mile of travel takes you to the unsigned junction with a side trail leading to Montecito Peak (3,214 feet). Enjoy the view!
Cold Spring Trail continues a last mile to Camino Cielo. From the Sky Road, many trails lead into the far reaches of the Santa Barbara backcountry.
Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my “HIKE Santa Barbara Pocket Guide” at The Trailmaster Store