Sick of heavy traffic, busy sidewalks, and slow crosswalk signals ruining your run? Get off the pavement, hit some of Santa Barbara’s most popular trails for runners, and take your jogging experience to the next level. There are so many amazing trails to choose from all around Santa Barbara, from winding, steep elevations through lush state and national parks.
Whether you are a long-time resident or just relocatiing to Santa Barbara, trail running is a great way to explore the scenery around this beautiful city. Check out some of the best trails in Santa Barbara. Before you hit the trails, be sure to take plenty of water and keep an eye out for poison oak.
The Douglas Family Preserve
Located in the Mesa neighborhood of Santa Barbara near the intersection of Cliff Drive and Las Positas Road. Known by long-time locals as the Wilcox property, the 70-acre Douglas Family Preserve is one of the most rewarding of Santa Barbara’s easy hikes. Named for its movie star donor, Michael Douglas, and his father, Kirk, this much-loved trail is a favorite with dog owners because it’s one of the few areas in Santa Barbara where their furry friends are allowed to roam off leash in designated areas. You can reach the preserve from the east at Medcliff Road and park near the intersection with Selrose Lane or access it via a sidewalk from the Arroyo Burro Beach parking lot.
One of Santa Barbara’s most popular hikes, Inspiration Point is true to its name, culminating at a small summit with gorgeous 180-degree views. This four-mile out-and-back, moderate trail begins at Tunnel Trail (accessible from the Jesusita Trail) and continues for about a mile on a paved road before turning into a dirt trail beyond a metal gate. Eventually, it crosses a creek, which may not be flowing depending upon rainfall amounts. This is a dog-friendly trail and it’s popular with local trail runners and mountain bikers. You can access the trailhead at Tunnel Road, off Mission Canyon Road.
Cold Spring East Fork
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
One of Santa Barbara’s best-loved canyon trails, Cold Spring East Fork offers picturesque pools under shady alders a short stroll from your parking spot. You can adjust the length of this trail to suit your hiking ability and energy level, with options ranging from an easy jaunt to the first pools, where kids can hunt for frogs and salamanders, to a strenuous 4.5-mile one-way hike to East Camino Cielo. This is a great hike for a hot day since the trail is shaded until the upper reaches. Look out for poison oak along the way. The hike begins from Mountain Drive in Montecito and includes several creek crossings and continues past pools and small waterfalls (after good rains).
San Ysidro Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Perfect for hot, sunny days, the moderately easy San Ysidro Trail in the posh enclave of Montecito remains shady most of the way. After good rains, the waterfalls and swimming hole here are a welcome reward for weary hikers. You can access the trail from the end of East Mountain Drive to the left of Park Lane in Montecito. Look out for poison oak and bring plenty of water.
This trail takes you up some steep inclines and rocky ridges, from Mission Creek to La Cumbre Peak to Cathedral Peak. Note that while this trail promises some incredible views, many hikers find it challenging due to the rock climbing and extreme heat, which can be just as intense in winter as in summer. The trail is more suited to experienced hikers, and it is recommended that you bring plenty of water and food, as well notifying friends and family of your plans.
If you are running or hiking in an area unknown to you, it’s a good idea is to check in with an information center, carry a GPS-enabled device, or use a trail running app to avoid getting lost. Many of these trails are part of much larger networks of hiking trails in vast National Park areas, and it can be easy to lose your way if you aren’t an experienced hiker or have little knowledge of the area.
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