Sunday, November 19 , 2017, 3:14 am | Fair 42º

 
 
 
 

Ray Ford: Buena Vista Canyon — A Hidden Jewel in Montecito Foothills

Narrow canyon walls, lush vegetation, a hint of fall coloring and views over the canyon at the upper end of the trail: who could want more in a hike?

Hiker enjoys the lush vegetation in the Buena Vista narrows. Click to view larger
Hiker enjoys the lush vegetation in the Buena Vista narrows. (Ray Ford photo)

Narrow canyon walls, lush vegetation, a hint of fall coloring and views over the canyon at the upper end of the trail: who could want more in a hike?

The hike up into the interior of Buena Vista Canyon is just over a half-mile in length or close to a mile and a half for an out-and-back trip, which is perfect for our English bulldog named Myrtle, so we do it quite often.

There are lots of little climbs, plenty of chaparral odors to sample and a bunch of small pools to play in further up the trail, so for Myrtle this is dog heaven.

My preference, when it works, is to look for ways to make a loop out of my hike whenever I can.

Buena Vista Canyon offers two nice opportunities to do just that, one leading west up the west fork of Buena Vista over and down into San Ysidro Canyon. The other heads east out of the canyon, climbing up a series of switchbacks to the Romero Jeepway. From there it is a bit over a mile to Romero Canyon.

Regardless of whether you’re looking for an out and back hike or a longer loop, you won’t find a nicer place to spend a few hours than here.

Getting There

You’ll find the Buena Vista trailhead just a few minutes off Highway 101. The route is pretty simple: from Highway 101 take the San Ysidro exit and head north for a mile to East Valley Road; turn right and follow East Valley another mile to Park Lane; finally turn left and continue along Park Lane past the turnoff to Mountain Drive, then a little over a half mile more to a point where the road begins to level out and is marked by a small trail sign.

Hike Details

Map shows the trails network in the San Ysidro Canyon area. Pictured are two great loop hikes from the Buena Vista trailhead. Click to view larger
Map shows the trails network in the San Ysidro Canyon area. Pictured are two great loop hikes from the Buena Vista trailhead.

East Loop Length : .6 miles one way to end of canyon; 1 mile to the Romero jeepway; 1.1 to side trail leading to a hidden bench; 1.55 to Overlook Bench; 2.25 miles to Romero Canyon Jeepway; 2.55 miles to Bella Vista Road; 4.35 along Bella Vista and Park Lane to car.

West Loop Length : .6 miles one way to end of canyon; 1 mile to the San Ysidro Jeepway; 1.65 miles down Jeepway to San Ysidro Canyon; 2.1 miles to Old Pueblo Trail; 2.95 miles to Park Lane; 3.05 miles back to car.

Gain : 350 feet to upper end of Buena Vista Canyon; 850 feet to Hidden Bench; 950 feet to Romero overlook for east loop. 350 feet to upper end of Buena Vista Canyon; 575 feet at top of saddle leading down to San Ysidro Canyon.

Difficulty : Moderate with some short climbs.

Path : Native soil with several creek crossings.

Our English bulldog, Myrtle, wonders why we can’t keep up with her. The lower canyon is a perfect length for a walk with your dog. Click to view larger
Our English bulldog, Myrtle, wonders why we can’t keep up with her. The lower canyon is a perfect length for a walk with your dog. (Ray Ford photo)

Season : All year; especially nice in springtime when the water is flowing and in November when the colors turn.

Restrictions : Multi-use; you may encounter mountain bikes.

Canine : OK for dogs off-leash when away from trailheads or paved roads.

On the Trail

Even from the trailhead the view up canyon is pretty nice. In the far background the mountain wall shoots high up into the sky, framing the lower canyon and the narrows that makes Buena Vista Canyon so scenic. Bands of sandstone cut down across the canyon, creating a “V” which is like an entrance into another world.

Hiking through the Buena Vista narrows cut through the Coldwater Sandstone formation deposited more than 10 million years ago. Click to view larger
Hiking through the Buena Vista narrows cut through the Coldwater Sandstone formation deposited more than 10 million years ago. (Ray Ford photo)

The first few hundred yards of the trail are steep but don’t despair, the trail will level out soon. For the next quarter mile the trail becomes relatively easy to walk, with only one more steep section before you reach the canyon proper.

Once you reach the narrows, you will find yourself immersed in the forest of trees as the trail cuts back and forth across the creek and winds in and out of a series of beautiful sandstone outcroppings.

The upper canyon is like a hidden jewel: thick green grasses and the pastels of a myriad of wildflowers in the springtime. Several hundred yards of very enchanting walking brings you to the end of the canyon and the proverbial fork in the trail.

This provides two more extended out-and-back opportunities or even longer loop hikes.

East Loop

The Buena Vista Trail turns to the right, climbs a bit up a small side canyon, then begins a series of switchbacks that take you up through the chaparral to the Romero Jeepway.

The 500-foot climb required to reach the top of the plateau will put off some, but on the other hand there’s a hidden bench located just off the Jeepway that is well worth the effort.

Look for a small trail off the Jeepway. This leads to a knoll (marked on the Carpinteria topo with a small triangle and the elevation—1543 feet) where you will find a comfortable wooden bench to sit on and enjoy the sunset views. You can thank the Montecito Trails Foundation for providing this magnificent bench.

If you have time you can also wander a half-mile further along the Jeepway to Mark’s Bench, AKA the Romero Overlook, before retracing your steps back to the Buena Vista trailhead.

To make this a loop hike, continue east. Just beyond the Overloop, the road begins to descend steeply down into Romero Canyon. An alternative to the jeep road is a small connector trail that will take you down into Romero Canyon where you can connect to the canyon trail and follow it down to the trailhead.

The bad news is that the last part of the loop follows Bella Vista and Park Lanes back to your car. The good news is that the views are spectacular and the walk is almost all downhill.

West Loop

The trail up the west fork of Buena Vista Canyon climbs 225 feet to a saddle that separates it from San Ysidro Canyon. From this point, the jeepway drops quickly down into the upper end of San Ysidro Canyon.

To reach your car at the Buena Vista trailhead, head .45 miles down canyon along the canyon jeepway. Look for the Old Pueblo Trail (OPT) leading off to the left just after you climb a short hill. You’ll find it just on the other side of a locked gate.

Turn left (east) and follow the OPT for .85 miles as it meanders across several small hills and along the edge of a number of Montecito estates located just off the trail until you reach Park Lane. You’ll find your car and the Buena Vista trailhead just up the road.

Geo-Referenced Map

Download a copy of the map at Santa Barbara Outdoors. The map is geo-referenced, meaning that once loaded into your iOS or Android phones you can use an app such as Avenza's PDF Maps to track your progress on the trail. 

Noozhawk outdoors writer Ray Ford has been hiking, backpacking and bicycling in the Santa Barbara area since the 1970s. He is a longtime local outdoors columnist, author and photographer. Click here for additional columns, or view his previous work at his website, Santa Barbara Outdoors. E-mail him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter: @riveray. The opinions expressed are his own.

Mark’s Bench oerlooking Romero Canyon and the Montecito coastline. It is dedicated to Mark James Andros, born Aug. 16, 1952, and died on March 7, 1961. Click to view larger
Mark’s Bench oerlooking Romero Canyon and the Montecito coastline. It is dedicated to Mark James Andros, born Aug. 16, 1952, and died on March 7, 1961. (Ray Ford photo)
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >