OverviewWhen viewed from the Santa Barbara and Goleta areas, the Mission Crags dominate the ridgeline. These large sandstone rock formations generate a quite picturesque profile for this region of the Santa Ynez Mountains. From most areas in town, one will notice the long boulder covered ridge rising dramatically out of Mission Canyon and culminating atop Arlington Peak. Just beyond this ridge lies Cathedral Peak, a several hundred foot high sandstone rock spire that resembles a shark's tooth. For Santa Barbara hikers, the trip to Cathedral Peak simultaneously holds the reputation of being one of the toughest hikes around and being one of the most spectacular.
Getting ThereFrom downtown Santa Barbara, take State St to Mission Blvd and turn right. Follow Mission Blvd to the Santa Barbara Mission. Drive up Mission Canyon Rd for roughly one half mile to Foothill Rd and turn right. After several hundred yards (near the fire station), turn left. Continue up Mission Canyon to a fork in the road. Take the left fork up Tunnel Rd and continue several miles to the end of the road. Parking is available on the right side of the road. The trail begins on a paved access road just above the parking area.
RoutesROUTES OVERVIEW MAP There is one main route to the summit of Cathedral Peak via the Dragon's Back Trail and the summit of Arlington Peak. There are also two interesting loop hikes that make for a more challenging outing. The routes are described in detail below.
Standard Dragon's Back to Cathedral Peak: From the trailhead follow the paved road through the lower part of Mission Canyon for roughly one mile. The road crosses a bridge, turns to dirt, bends sharply left, and continues up a hill. Pass the turn-off to Tunnel Trail on your right and continue up the hill where one veers left onto the Jesusita Trail. Follow the trail for several hundred yards until it drops down into the west fork of Mission Canyon where a small stream is encountered. From here, head upstream on the left for fifty yards and pick up a small trail that begins to climb above the left side of the canyon. The trail heads steeply through chaparral and over boulders. After about ten minutes a small rock outcropping is reached on the right. From this promontory one can look down upon the Seven Falls area. Just beyond this promontory, look on the left for a small trail intersecting at 90 degrees. This is the standard Cathedral Peak Trail that heads up the Dragon's Back. The trail meanders steeply up the ridge through interesting sandstone formations for roughly a mile and a half and tops out on the summit of Arlington Peak. Although the register is on Arlington Peak, it is not the true Cathedral Peak. From here, the craggy summit of Cathedral Peak is visible. To reach the true summit, follow a use trail off the North side of Arlington Peak and along the ridge connecting Arlington and Cathedral. After a quarter of a mile, the summit spire is reached. Here one encounters a short class 3 scramble with great handholds. After 30 feet of scrambling the summit is reached. The round-trip distance is approximately 6 miles, with 2350 feet of elevation gain.
Cathedral Peak/La Cumbre Peak Loop: This loop constitutes summiting Cathedral Peak, then nearby La Cumbre Peak. It is one of the more difficult hikes in the Santa Barbara front country. The trail is overgrown in areas and sometimes difficult to follow. The round-trip distance is approximately 10 miles, with 2950 feet of elevation gain.
From the summit of Cathedral Peak, drop down across the rocky ledges towards the saddle between Cathedral Peak and La Cumbre Peak. Look for a use trail that heads almost directly down to the saddle. From here it is 900 feet of elevation gain via the use trail to the summit of La Cumbre Peak. To complete the loop back to the trailhead, head east on the East Camino Cielo Road near La Cumbre Peak. After one mile, look for the intersection of Tunnel Trail with East Camino Cielo on the right hand side. Take the well-established Tunnel Trail 6 miles back to the trailhead.
Cathedral Peak/Jesusita Trail Loop: This loop follows a small use trail from the summit of Arlington Peak and connects with the popular Jesusita Trail near the viewpoint known as Inspiration Point. The route is badly overgrown in areas and contains some steep sections of scrambling, although nothing worse than easy class 3. The route passes some very interesting sandstone formations and several large rock faces, making it an exciting adventure for a scrambler. This route offers an excursion into an area of the Santa Barbara front country that is seldom visited. The round-trip distance is approximately 7 miles, with 2300 feet of elevation gain.
From the summit of Arlington Peak, before one reaches the true Cathedral Peak, pick up a faint trail that heads directly towards the prominent point on the Goleta coastline known as Campus Point. The trail becomes more defined as one heads down. Follow this trail through chaparral and sandstone boulders along a ridge. Be prepared for some fairly dense brush and steep, slippery sections. As the rocky ridge fades into chaparral, there is a great view of Rocky Pine Ridge. At this point, aim towards the power-line towers near Inspiration Point, taking care not to head down into the small canyon. The trail fades out at some points but is easily picked up again with some quick searching. The connection with the Jesusita Trail occurs after a couple of miles and is obvious. Follow the Jesusita Trail back to the trailhead.
Red TapeThe parking situation at the Mission Canyon trailhead is heavily monitored. Take care to park in designated areas only. An Adventure Pass is not needed to park at this trailhead, as it is outside Los Padres National Forest.
CampingCathedral Peak is a day hike, so most likely camping will not be required. However, the nearby Los Padres National Forest offers excellent camping opportunities.
Ray Ford's Santa Barbara trail guide that contains excellent information on many other hikes in the Southern Central Coast region.
Another excellent source of information for Santa Barbara area hikes.