Autumn in Santa Barbara is the perfect time of the year to hit the trails. From the coastal mesa to the foothills and into the canyons, there are trails for every age and every skill level.
Santa Barbara’s idyllic destination tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains makes for breathtaking backdrops and views no matter where you trek. Take in the colorful fall foliage and wander the winding trails up to towering cliffs with sweeping vistas, or stay near the shore for a leisurely beach-adjacent hike. Whether you want a quick and easy jaunt or a challenging hike, there is a trail or path to suit your mood. Here are some of the most beautiful hikes in Santa Barbara for the fall season.
Inspiration Point is a popular hike for locals and tourists alike. This version of the hike begins at Tunnel Trail and is about 3.5 miles round-trip. This is considered a moderately challenging hike, as the trail begins on paved road access and then climbs through chaparral up to a summit where you can experience a view of Santa Barbara and the ocean and Channel Islands in the distance. This is a popular sunset hike, for obvious reasons, and it can also get pretty busy during the morning and afternoon, too. Watch out for mountain bikers blazing downhill.
Seven Falls and 3 Pools beyond Seven Falls
Starting from the same trailhead as Inspiration point is the hike to Seven Falls. This is considered a mildly challenging route that’s about 3-4 miles that takes you into the Los Padres National Forest. Hikers enjoy the workout and boulder hopping en-route to the falls and 3 Pools. Cool off with a dip in the creek on your way up or down.
It’s worth noting, the hike to 3 Pools involves a fairly difficult large boulder climb, so this leg is not for the faint of heart, as you would also need to climb down the boulder to return. After scaling the boulder, you return to the stream and continue rock and boulder hopping your way to 3 Pools. Depending on the time of the year, there may be more or less water in each of the pools.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Those who prefer an easy, leisurely autumn walk will enjoy the trails winding through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. These gardens span 78 acres and include miles of walking and hiking trails that are family and age friendly for senior citizens, too. Just one or two hours of meandering exposes visitors to more than 1,000 native plants plus wildflowers and trees. A visit to the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens is a relaxing treat and an afternoon well spent. Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden website to get ideas for mini hikes or walks and to join short talks, such as a morning bird walk or nursery chats.
Douglas Family Preserve & Arroyo Burro Beach coastal hike
This is another easy, stress-free hike for those who prefer to stay ocean-adjacent. This walk starts in Douglas Family Preserve, a large open-area of about 60 acres sitting above Arroyo Burro Beach, also known as Hendry’s Beach by the locals. It contains walking trails and scenic ocean views you won’t want to miss. You’ll see owners walking their dogs, as dogs are allowed to go leash free in the park. The trail leads onto and down to Arroyo Burrow Beach Park. After your hike, pop into the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach for a morning coffee or sunset drink!
Cold Spring Trail Loop
It’s often still sunny and warm in Santa Barbara, even well into fall. The Cold Springs Trail is fairly shaded most of the way, so it’s a great option for hiking on a particularly sunny fall day. The loop is a popular area, so you’re sure to run into others while walking. Google map “Cold Spring Trailhead” for a bird’s eye view. At the entrance, choose the East or West Fork.
Where to stay in Santa Barbara near the best places to hike
Lace up your hiking boots because fall in Santa Barbara is the best time of the year to hit the trails. From the coast to the canyons, there’s a trail to suit every skill level. Take in the sweeping views from up high or explore deep into the out-and-back, getting up close with California’s uniquely wonderful autumn foliage.
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