The Mountains of California •
Santa Ynez Peak • Highpoint: Santa Ynez Mountains
• Los Padres National Forest
• Santa Barbara County

Trailhead at the St. Vincent de Paul camp gates

The Tequepis Trail starts here

Still low down, the towers of Santa Ynez Peak are visible way up there

Looking back at the fog-shrouded Cachuma Lake

Santa Ynez Peak comes into view, hiking along Camino Cielo


The actual summit

A nice view east looking at Broadcast Peak, Camino Cielo (the road), and Santa Barbara and the ocean-fog to the right

Some serious erosion on the trails. This chasm was a good 10 feet deep

Date: August 16, 2010 • Elevation: 4,298 feet • Prominence: 2,058 feet • Distance: 13 miles • Time: 6 hours and 15 minutes • Gain: 3,100 feet • Conditions: Hot with bugs


Santa Ynez Peak is the highest point of the Santa Ynez Mountains, a uniform wall of peaks that rise north of Santa Barbara. The summit features an array of communications towers, as does a nearby sub-summit called Broadcast Peak. A rough service road from Santa Barbara goes up to the summit, and the range crest is cross by another road called Camino Cielo (Cloud Road). However, I was interested in a hike and chose the Tequepis Trail, which comes in from the north near Lake Cachuma.

I was visiting Southern California, taking advantage of a brief break in my schedule before the grind of the Fall Semester at ASU began again in a few days. After visiting family in Wrightwood, I had driven and hiked Alamo Mountain yesterday. Coming down from that peak, I drove west and into Santa Barbara, arriving in the late afternoon. I bought a burger from an In-N-Out, then followed state route CA-154 out of town, camping at Lake Cachuma County Park.

This would be my second look at Santa Ynez Peak. In 2007, I drove by, but I had no detailed maps of the roads. In fact, I was here only because other planned hikes were cancelled due to closures as the result of fires in the previous year. On my 2007 trip, I drove up Camino Cielo, following it steeply up from CA-154, heading west along the spine of the range. The road's condition grew worse and after about six miles, I came to a gate, still a number of miles away from the summit. I was nursing a cold at the time and was in no mood for a boring road hike, so I bailed and decided to come back another time.

For this attempt, I specifically wanted a long, hot hike with insects, and found interesting resources about the Tequepis Trail. The Tequepis Trail ends at Camino Cielo, but about 2 miles east of Santa Ynez Peak and immediately east of Broadcast Peak. I decided I would follow this trail, then walk the road to the top. Logistically, it was very simple. It was also fixing to be a warm day, so I would need a very early start.

I left the Lake Cachuma campground and drove west on CA-154 to a road on the south marked for the St. Vincent de Paul Ranch (and other ranches, another run by United Way and a third for the Boy Scouts). I followed this road 1.5 miles to its end in a parking lot beneath a giant oak, with the "St. V. de P." gates nearby. It was 8 a.m. in slightly foggy conditions when I rolled in, the only one here today. The St. V. de P. runs a camp for kids, and the Tequepis Trail crosses the St. V. de P. grounds. Apparently they do not mind hikers crossing to get to the trail. However, today being a Monday and the schools just starting, there was no one about, not even a caretaker. The place was eerily quiet. I walked past a pool, some bunk houses, and shortly, came to a stream crossing and the National Forest boundary.

The next mile of trail follows a fire road and parallels a stream (it was flowing today), gaining at an easy grade. I was in shade, and by now the fog had burned off. When I was in the sun, I could tell this was going to be a hot day. Given my hike was on the lee-side of the range from the ocean, I could not expect any sea breezes to cool me. For now, though, the temperatures were pleasant, and I had plenty of shade.

The road ends at a sign, while the trail continues to the left of the sign. The trail steepens a little through shady forest before breaking out into the open, the slopes covered in woody and impenetrable manzanita scrub. Now in the open, it was warm, but I made good time up the trail. Once the trail gains onto a ridge trending north off the main range crest, it makes about five long switchbacks. Often, the towers of Santa Ynez Peak were visible above me. Each time I would swing around to that side, the towers would seem to be closer. I kept a good pace, mindful of snakes.

The final half-mile of the trail sweeps southeast through a small glen of shade trees, then meets the main range crest in a grassy opening. The trail then drops about 30 feet to merge with the Camino Cielo. I covered this distance from my truck in a little over two hours, a distance of four miles and a gain of about 2,400 feet.

Now on Camino Cielo, I turned right and kept walking. The summit was still 2.5 miles away. Immediately ahead was Broadcast Peak. The road gains steeply here, then contours around Broadcast Peak. Rounding the bend, I could now see Santa Ynez Peak ahead. Unfortunately, being this high and with no shade trees, it was very warm with no sea breezes. On the other hand, the hiking was easy and the grades lenient. The insects were the main problem. They were everywhere.

I trudged westward along Camino Cielo, eyeballing a grassy ridge coming off Santa Ynez Peak that looked like a possible short-cut. Then I saw a rattlesnake crossing the road. At first, not sure what kind it was, I let him pass, then as I walked past, got a look at his tail, and saw the rattles. Well, forget about the short-cut. The hillsides are probably covered with his pals. I was obliged to walk Camino Cielo past Santa Ynez Peak, then catch a spur road to the top, doubling back east to gain the top. This added a half-mile each way.

The spur road was paved, and when I got on top, there was a service truck parked there and I could hear some guy doing work in a building. Not surprisingly, the summit is covered in towers, and the true highpoint is a hump of unexciting dirt. I walked up and over the top, walked to a couple viewpoints for photos, and got moving downward, never really stopping for a break.

I walked back down the spur road and a little more east on Camino Cielo before I stopped for my "summit break", in the shade of a hillside. I celebrated with a diet Shasta coke. It took me 3 hours and 20 minutes to hike to the summit, 6.5 miles one way with about 2,900 feet of gain. But it was warm and I knew I had some serious distance to cover, so I didn't rest long.

The walk back to the Tequepis Trail junction took 40 minutes (I saw no snakes), and only when I was back down into the tree-cover of the trail did I stop for an extended break and to do a water bottle count. I had three bottles (1.5 liters total) which would be just enough to cover me for the hike out. While the shade was welcome, the bugs and gnats were extremely annoying. Ironically I didn't get any relief from them until I was down in the more open portions of the trail.

Lower down, the sun was high and it was very warm, approaching hot, but I made good time as I descended taking a break every 20 minutes to drink. I was again reminded of a seeming contradiction of Southern California's coastal ranges: despite being so close from the ocean, it was uncomfortably hot here, about 20 degrees hotter than in Santa Barbara. The whole region had been in a heatwave the past few days. I'd say it was in the low 90s where I was.

Finally, I was off the switchbacks and back into the shaded lower portion of the trail. By now I was beat, sunburned, sweaty and stinky. I had a half-bottle of water remaining when I stumbled out to my truck, but there I had plenty more in a cooler. I spent a few minutes relaxing and re-hydrating. The time was 2 p.m., giving me a round-trip time of 6 hours, 15 minutes. I didn't stay long, exiting back onto CA-154 and deciding to go for a scenic drive back into Santa Barbara via Solvang and Buellton. Solvang has a cutesy Danish downtown theme and lot of tourists. Buellton has wineries and more important, gas and drinks. I caught the US-101 here back into Santa Barbara.

The drive into Los Angeles was typically bad, battling late-day traffic and horrible, un-maintained freeways with potholes and seams that don't meet quite right. The road signs were all decorated in graffiti. I crashed at my pal Schneider's place in Monrovia, where we got Japanese takeout and watched a video of the L.A. Kings hockey team from 1991. It was amusing to note how primitive the production quality was from back then, and also to note this was when the mullet (hockey hair) was just coming into style.

From Schneider's place, I left early the next morning for the long and hot drive back to Arizona, the end of a short but productive trip. The hikes were just what I was after, and I was glad to be home with my wife and kitties. We were treated to one of the most intense monsoon thunderstorms I can recall that afternoon. It flooded the streets and knocked over some nearby trees and a light pole.

(c) 2010, 2019 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.