Dan and Hannah Hike to the San Ysidro Falls with the Family Rawding and Then…  Part 1 of 6

sy2-2-family-at-start-of-trailEarlier this past February, Hannah and I had hiked the San Ysidro Trail in Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, California.  With the relentless rains of the winter of 2017, the waterfalls at the end of the trail had grown from a trickle to a thunderous applause of water.  That waterfall trail jumped it to the top of our list of favorite hikes in Santa Barbara.  Click here for that blog.


Raging stream for stick throwing, not for crossing

Five days ago, our daughter Molly, her hubby Tip, and our grandsons, Owen (4.5) and Max (nearly 3) flew from Massachusetts to spend their school vacation week with us at our rented cottage in nearby Summerland.  On Molly and Tip’s first full day in California, they hiked this very trail while we took Owen and Max to Carpinteria Beach.   Molly and Tip got sidetracked onto other trails and never ended up at the San Ysidro Falls.


Max by San Ysidro Creek

So, with sunny weather this last Thursday in February, we all decide to hit the San Ysidro Trail for the ideal “family” hike.  “Ideal” if you have two athletic, vigilant, and relentlessly encouraging parents like Molly and Tip to deal with the challenges of hiking with preschoolers; who begin the hike moving and grooving, then get tired, and finally want to be carried.


Tip with thier sons, Owen (left) and Max (right)

Driving in two rental cars, we six arrive at the trailhead on East Mountain Drive and park beside the hedges of five to ten million dollar houses of Montecito, home to Oprah, Kenny Loggins, and Ellen.   Thankfully, long ago the Montecito Trail Foundation established trails up the mountain so the public can enjoy the same scenery as do the landed gentry.


Athletic Omi with her grandson Owen

When you hike with preschoolers, you are in for a “stop and smell the roses” kind of hike.  Not wanting to control the boys’ enthusiasm, Molly and Tip watch Owen and Max explore, run, sometimes fall, and then they are there to help Owen and Max throw away their “ouchies.”  At the end of the hike, Max will need three band-aids on his knees.


The boys race, we follow while Molly and Tip remain alert.  Trees with hollowed trunks are favorite stopping points for the boys as is the storm-fueled river where they watch their thrown sticks follow the current past stones and boulders in the stream.


A six to eight-inch rain storm fell just six days ago, so the trail has puddles and mud that Molly and Tip swing their boys over.  The trail is rocky with side creeks that require careful stone-stepping to cross.  Having Tip’s strength and agility makes all the difference.


After a mile of the two to the falls, Max finally turns around, raises his arms up, the signal that he is ready for the backpack.  Interestingly twenty minutes later he wants to get down; but Tip has seen this show before on other hikes.  First down, then literally 30 seconds later Max wants to go back up in the backpack.


Last week’s rock slide impeding our hike

Along the way, we see boulders from mudslides that block the trail that we step around and over; not impenetrable, but testament to the power of the recent storm.

Within two hundred yards of the waterfall, we come upon the widest side creek, where seven days ago, Hannah and I easily stone-stepped across.  Today, Tip climbs atop the larger boulder (see below) mid-creek and extends his arm to each of us, all the time having 40-pound Max on his back.


San Ysidro Falls

And then, just around the bend is the San Ysidro Falls in all its storm-fueled glory.  Hannah and I see that the trail in front of the falls has narrowed to 18”, due to the erosion caused by the storm.  The force of the water over the headwaters is double what it was just ten days ago.

It’s been two hours for two miles; about par when hiking with preschoolers on a trail into the mountains.  Older brother Owen has impressively walked the entire two rocky miles with 1150’ of elevation gain – a chip off his mom and dad’s block.


The rock Tip perched on to get us all across the side creek, within 200 yards of the falls

A little after 1230P, we head back for the trailhead on East Mountain Drive, which requires Tip’s strength and balance to support us again over the side creek torrent that we just negotiated twenty minutes before.

And then…

… with Molly in front with Max, Owen on Tip’s shoulders, Hannah following them, and me just behind her on the trail, the trail above the forty-foot ravine suddenly gives way beneath Hannah’s feet.  One minute Hannah is there, the next she is feet-first, rock surfing down the vertical cliff side towards the ravine 40′ below.


Dan and Hannah Hike the San Ysidro Waterfalls Trail in Montecito, California


Santa Cruz Island, 15 miles from Ventura Harbor

Waking early on this Saturday in mid-February, Hannah and I have planned an excursion out to the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara for some hiking.  Calling before dawn to confirm our departure, I hear that Island Packers, the local cruise line, has cancelled the morning whale watch due to strong winds and large swells.  Even so, our trip to Santa Cruz (one of the Channel Islands for which we paid $54 each as seniors) is on.  Island Packers warn that if you are susceptible to motion sickness, consider rescheduling.


Island Packers transportation from Ventura to the Channel Islands

The stormy seas came out of the blue.  When we went to bed Friday night, a sunny Saturday in the mid-60s was predicted.  We had no idea that rough seas might kibosh our fifteen-mile boat ride to Santa Cruz.  After hearing the news of the strong winds and large swells, Hannah and I look at each other and immediately decide that we are not that kind of mariners and reschedule for the following Tuesday.  Barfing and hiking are not a pretty mix.  That said, barfing and anything are not a pretty mix.


With sunshine aplenty here on the mainland, we plan a hike to the waterfalls on the San Ysidro Trail in Montecito, the next town north of our cottage.  We smile at each other and know in our hearts that we are, indeed, citrus wonderfolk  (i.e. we don’t just make lemonade from today’s lemons (the postponed trip to the Channel Islands), we make margaritas!  The stormy seas off Ventura did not happen to us, they happened for us.  Today we will have waterfalls!


The San Ysidro Trail begins

Jumping north on The 101 highway for the San Ysidro exit two miles away from our cottage, we turn right towards the mountains. Two miles from there, we eventually weave our way up to East Mountain Road, which dead ends at our trailhead.  While multi-million dollar homes hide behind arbored walls of green, we easily find side-of-the-street parking.  Click here for both John Dickson’s fabulous directions to get to the trailhead of the San Ysidro Falls Trail as well as his directions once you are on the trail itself.


The trail is not mobbed at all but joyful with couples, singles with dogs, and coeds from University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).  Tree-lined and bracketed by the tasteful but impenetrable walls of the estates of the foothills, the trail skirts the driveways of the Montecito rich and famous.  Soon we are above the last of the estates on a trail muddy from the last week of rain.  This bodes well for the falls to be amazing.


Muddy, then rocky muddy, the trail is easy for us to step along to find the drier dirt.  With the San Ysidro Creek to our left, we notice the foliage has not leafed out so we can see down the rocky ravine to the creek.  All good signs that the waterfall is going to blow us away.


At the half mile point, there is a turn to the McEnemy Trail and Saddlerock Mountain.  Click here to visit that blog from a year ago, when the land was parched, the large peace sign intriguing, and the terrain brown on brown.

As the trail narrows, it heads into the foothills forest.  Shaded most of the way, the San Ysidro Trail rises gently and steadily, as the rocky terrain begins to dominate.


Crossing side streams from time to time, we did not have any such mini-creeks in the previous three winters we have been here in the mountains of Santa Barbara. At the mile and a quarter in point, the trail steepens and we get the workout we love.  As a four-mile round-trip, we rate the hike as moderate, most worthy of the time, especially with the payoff at the end.


The last sidestream crossing the trail, 200 yards from the falls

Using the health app (the one with the red heart) on my iPhone6, I have an accurate measure that we are within 0.2 of a mile of the falls.  Rocky and narrow, we hike with a steady flow of weekenders to the falls.


First, we see the first of about twenty students from the UCSB Adventure Club with climbing ropes, who have come to  climb the falls.  And then around the last bend, we see the most dramatic falls we have ever seen in the Santa Barbara area.  Parallel flumes of thundering white descend over the head of the falls.


With our hometown of York, Maine blanketed with one 14” storm and awaiting another in two days (that turns out to be 24″), we stand in awe of nature’s water show in the parched desert of California.  Owen’s Woodstock and Max’s blue elephant add a touch of our grandsons to the mountain falls experience.

Again, no surprise, California delivers.