The Playground is the name of a large area with many rock towers and subterranean rock formations in the Santa Ynez Mountains
of Santa Barbara, California.
After the discovery of the ever famous and sought after Lizard's Mouth
early in the history of bouldering and climbing in this area, The Brickyard
was discovered. In contrast to Lizard's Mouth which is visited by the general public, The Brickyard became the destination of choice only for boulderers. These two areas are practically an extension of each other, and the discovery of one led to the discovery of the other. As it is with most climbers, their insatiable taste for discovering new areas had to be satisfied. I believe the area that came to be known as The Playground had been spotted from the city and had to be reached and explored.
The Playground turned out to be a lot more extensive than was thought possible. What seemed like boulders from a distance turned out to be only tips of much larger formations.That is not to say that there are no boulders at The Playground; there are. In fact there are more boulders than anyone can climb in a lifetime. The highlight of The Playground, however, are the countless rock walls that are mostly just below the surface. There are many caverns and tunnels lined by rock formations reaching heights of forty and fifty feet. There is a big advantage to having to drop down into a huge hole to climb back out. The hole, being in the shade, stays cool during the scorching hot summer months. Spend an hour hopping from boulder to boulder and climb down into some of the caverns and you will begin to get a feel for the magnitude and expanse of The Playground.
Looking down the approach notch
North Face of The Guardian
Unless you are a super hiker, the approach trail will take between 20-30 minutes, all downhill. That's a bit tough since you will have to hike back out at the end of the day. In any event, this is a big departure from the 5-10 minute approaches to Lizard's Mouth or The Brickyard. Although the approach trail faces the ocean and the city, you don't get to see much as you are walking through a tunnel of sage brush. Surprisingly, the fires that ravaged most of the lower mountains in our area in 2009 somehow left the approach trail pretty much intact. When you reach the end of your approach trail, you come across a forty foot north facing rock formation that is an indication of what's to come. This rock is known as The Guardian
. The north face of The Guardian is covered by moss and not very inviting. Find your way through a narrow opening to the south side. Suddenly the entire view opens up in front of you. You get a breathtaking view of The Pacific Ocean and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands National Park
. A bit closer, the city of Santa Barbara and the coast of California will please your eyes. Directly below your feet, you will see a landscape covered with boulders and rock formations. This is The Playground.
There are a number of rock formations that are developed into sport climbing areas such as The Amphitheater
and The West Side
. Unfortunately, the number of moderate routes are few and far in between. The majority of the routes are in the 5.11 to 5.13 difficulty levels. Moderate level climbers need not despair. There are many lower angle formations that can be developed into moderate level sport climbing areas. All it takes are a bit of ambition and work.
One of the many virgin faces ready to be developed.
Driving and Hiking directions
From 101 Freeway take Highway 154, Cachuma Lake & San Marcos Pass exit. Drive north for 6.8 miles toward San Marcos Pass to its intersection with West Camino Cielo Road. Turn left at this intersection. Drive 2.1 miles up West Camino Cielo Road. It is somewhat difficult to figure out where the trail starts. There is a gate across the road from at least two trailheads. Both of these trails join after a few hundred feet. Take one of these trails and hike down the hill for about 25 minutes. You will come to a moss covered forty foot formations known as The Guardian. Go left to a break in the rock. The Playground is below your feet.
Note: .1 mile before reaching the trailheads look for a large turnout on the ocean side of the road. You can park here and walk up the road to the gate which is on the mountain side of the road. The Trailheads start on the ocean side of the road and you will be hiking down hill for the entire 25 minute approach.
Camping and Red Tape
No permits are required for climbing on the rocks of The Playground. During the hot summer months you need to be on the lookout for any sign of forest fires.
Looking west from Earth Watch
Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds close and convenient to the city of Santa Barbara.
There is, however, one very large and well developed campground at Cachuma Lake, and a few less developed ones along Paradise Road off Highway 154. There are also a few campgrounds along Highway 101 at El Capitan State Park and Refugio State Park.
El Capitan Beach Camping
Refugio State Beach Camping