West Fork of Cold Springs Trail

West Fork of Cold Springs Trail

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 34.45522°N / 119.65331°W
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
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West Fork CanyonWest Fork of Cold Springs Canyon Trail

West Fork of Cold Springs Trail offers one of the most beautiful hikes in the hills north of the town of Montecito, California.

Being the shorter and smaller subsidiary of its big brother Cold Springs Canyon, the west fork offers its own charm and beauty that is difficult to match. This trail went without any improvement for many years. There were rocky sections that required the most experienced hikers wearing proper foot gear to negotiate. Many people came back from this trail with bruises and scratches, but thankfully, I know of no fatalities.

Wild flower next to the trail
In the mid 1980s this trail went through a number of major improvements. The steep rocky sections were widened and supported by 4X4 pressure treated beams backed by rebars driven into rocks. On my last visit to this trail I noticed a few of these reinforced sections showed signs of wear and tear. It soon will be time for more work.

West Fork of Cold Springs Trail is just under four miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1250 feet. The trail is easy to moderate and suitable for any age, but you need to be in good physical shape.

Route description

Section of the trail
Trail signRusty old trail sign

Start your hike the same as Cold Springs Canyon trailhead. There are two different trails that start on either side of the Cold Springs Creek. The left trail seems to peter out after a little while. It's best to take the right trail. The trail crosses the creek only one quarter of a mile up from the trailhead. There is a wooden bench to rest on and watch a popular swimming hole along the Cold Springs Creek. There is also a rusty old sign marking where you need to cross the creek.

From here the trail parallels the creek on a gentle ascending hillside and stays in the shade of countless trees and bushes. You need to be on the lookout for poison oak. It grows right next to the trail. As the trail gains elevation, your distance from the creek increases. There is at least one metal pipe running along the entire trail to your next major landmark, Cold Springs Creek Tunnel.

Cold Springs Tunnel
A bit of history: During the early part of the 1890s the population of Santa Barbara was increasing by leaps and bounds and there was a great need for more sources of water. After much study and funding, the construction of this tunnel began in 1896. After running into much difficulty, the tunnel was extended to reach 5000 feet into the mountain and supplied some 300,000 gallons of water per day. This tunnel has a locked gate but it’s interesting to look inside. The only water that feeds back into the creek is the over flow of this water source.

Continuing up the trail

West Fork TrailTrail next to old and still functioning water pipe

Once you cross the run-off from this tunnel you will not be next to a creek to the end of your hike. From here the trail become much steeper and begins to pile on the feet. At one point the trail heads back down hill on a small ridge. At this point you will see another trail heading straight up toward the notch between two small peaklets. This trail was constructed by fire fighters during Jesusita Fire in the spring of 2009. It will be tempting to take this short cut to the end of your hike, but it’s better to allow this trail to disappear in time.

No Shooting sign at the end of the hikeNo shooting sign by Gibraltar Road and end of the hike

Continue your hike downhill on a small ridge that will soon begin to go up the hill again. After much zigzagging through charred hillsides the trail intersects Gibraltar Road and the end of your hike. The last few hundred feet of this trail is littered with broken glass and shot up cans. The hairpin turn on Gibraltar Road used to be used for target practicing. There are “No Shooting” signs next to the road now, and I haven’t seen anyone firing guns here in many years.

Landmarks and coordinates

West Fork of Cold Springs Trail coordinates
elevationDistance from trailhead
TrailheadN 34.45522--------W 119.65331741 ft0
Wooden Bench & Rusty Trail SignN 34.45900-------- W 119.65414940 ft .25 mile
Fire Fighters shortcutN 34.46594--------W119.662761385 ft1.25 miles
Hairpin turn on Gibraltar RoadN 34.46715--------W119.668922000 ftjust under 2 miles

How to get to the trailhead

From the intersection of 101 and Hot Springs Road drive 2.2 miles to it's intersection with East Mountain Drive.
Turn left onto East Mountain Drive and drive 1.1 miles to where it crosses Cold Springs Creek. About two hundred yards before the creek you will see a wide turnout on the right side of the road. Park here and walk up the road to the trailhead.

Note: There are two trailheads. The one on the right bypasses the creek crossings and ends up at the Montecito Overlook. The left trailhead follows the bottom of the canyon along the creek for the most part and ends up by Montecito Overlook also.