San Ysidro Trail to Waterfall


An incredibly beautiful out-and-back trail in the Montecito foothills (Santa Barbara adjacent). This is a "must do" hike in this area.

It's a moderate hike of about 4.4 miles roundtrip, 2.2 miles each way.

There is a 1150 ft elevation gain, and there are somewhat strenuous rocky-trail inclines when nearing the waterfall.

Features: running creek with numerous small cascades, 80 ft waterfall, beautiful wooded environment with shaded trails.

The Hike:

The San Ysidro Trail starts out in a residential Montecito neighborhood. (See slideshow, and directions to trailhead below.) The trail wanders through this residential area for about a half mile. It goes between a few homes, and onto and over some private roads. If you just keep in mind you are going uphill, into the foothills, you will find your way. There are a few trail signs that get you going in the right direction.

After the half mile you will be hiking on a wide trail that is very much like a fire road. You enter into this very pleasant wooded and mostly shaded San Ysidro Canyon. And you will hear the soothing ever-present sounds of San Ysidro Creek.

Please run slideshow below to see trail hiked in April:

PicasaWeb Slideshow


It will be useful to know that the trail goes alongside the right hand side (east) of the creek the entire way up. So, while there are many opportunities to explore around and to cross the creek, you don’t actually have to cross the creek on this hike until the very end, just before the waterfall.

The trail weaves its way up the canyon close to the creek, and also away from it, but it never gets very far away from the creek and that makes for great scenery and wonderful sounds. You will see many areas where the creek cascades over rocks and boulder piles of various sizes and heights.

At about .75 miles into the hike you will see a creek crossing to your left that looks very inviting. Enjoy this beautiful area, but don’t take this other trail. This is a transition into the lower McMenemy trail, which is not part of this hike.

You will continue on up the wide trail where at 1 mile there is a fork in the trail. The wide physical trail you are on turns left over the creek, and you will likely be tempted to follow it, but don’t take it. The trail you want is the right fork, which is really directly ahead of you. It’s a much narrower trail that continues up the right side of the creek. There is a trail sign at this fork which points you in the correct direction. It merely says “trail”.

In fact I believe every trail sign you want will just say “trail”. I think there is one at this writing that says “San Ysidro Trail”, but the others just say “trail”. When you are presented a trail choice, always take the trail that stays closest to the right side of the creek. Don’t take the other choices that cross the creek, or go away from it.

You may want to take notice, for another time, that near the end of the hike there is a fork in the trail where the right fork travels up the hill to the right. This is the route you take for a longer hike up to the awesome views of Camino Cielo. Don’t go up there for this hike.

At around 1.75 miles into the hike the trail gets noticeably steeper and rockier. You will know you are there when you see a metal pipe handrail lining the left side of the trail. While this is the toughest part of the hike, it’s good to know you are almost at your destination and the turn around point.

The trail flattens out after awhile, and then, it descends into the only mandatory creek crossing on the hike. You cross the creek and climb up the trail on the other side. In minutes you enter the waterfall area.

While the waterfall is about 80 feet high, it tends to run in a narrow stream. It isn’t very impressive because the volume of water is usually so low. I suppose after a serious amount of rain it could be very beautiful, but otherwise don’t get your hopes up. For me, the waterfall serves as a goal to reach and then turn around, that’s all. There are many other better areas along the trail to stop at and enjoy, rest and have a snack, etc.

So, this is your turning point to turn around and head back to the trailhead.

The main asset of this canyon, creek and trail is that the hiking environment is so consistently beautiful and mostly shady. Enjoy every minute you are here because it’s a rare hike in that respect.

The 1150 ft elevation gain also makes it a good workout. It’s not just an easy walk in the park.

This is arguably the best trail environment in the foothills. Enjoy your hike!


Map and Directions:


Monecito is adjacent to the eastern boundary of Santa Barbara. Go to Montecito via the 101 Fwy, and get off where convenient for you. You want to head north up into the foothills and get onto E. Valley Rd., between Sheffield Dr, to the east, and San Ysidro Rd., to the west. From whichever direction you approach it, go north onto Park Lane, from E. Valley Rd., heading further up into the foothills. You will come to a 3 way fork in the road, take the left most road onto E. Mountain Dr and drive down to the end of the road, about .25 miles or so, and look to your right where you will see a trailhead sign (see slideshow). Park anywhere on the side of the road. Follow the trailhead sign on the north side of the street to get onto the trail. GPS coordinates: N 34 26.762 W 119 37.318 google maps link (Note: There are no restroom facilities at the trailhead or on this hike.)

Google Map



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