I chase new experiences. I chase adventure. I chase my upper limits and seek to fulfill a persistent curiosity for the unknown. And sorry, TLC, I also happen to chase waterfalls. When I delve deep into the multitude of California hikes I’ve enjoyed over the years, my favorite ones always seem to include waterfalls.
My love of hiking was initiated on the Seven Falls trail in Santa Barbara about 15 years ago. Yes, the hike is not in San Francisco, but since it is the origin of one of my greatest passions (and is still my favorite hike in California which I did this past weekend on a girls’ trip to SB) I feel it only appropriate to share. Let’s be real – SB is not too far from San Francisco. The hike is a bit roundabout to get to, located just up from the Santa Barbara Mission where Tunnel Road hits the mountains. From the Mission, head along the right side on Mission Canyon Rd until you hit Foothill Rd. Make a right and go to the Stop sign (you’ll see Smoky the Bear Fire Station). Make a left here to get back on Mission Canyon Rd. At the fork, head left on Tunnel Rd and take to the top. Parking is limited (park at the edge of the street) so try and get to the trailhead early.
The trail starts with a mile-long hike along a fire road. Ocean views of the Santa Barbara Coast serve as your backdrop as you hike uphill. This hike gets a decent amount of sunlight and of the 20 times I’ve done it, I remember getting some color so make sure you wear your sunblock. Late winter/early spring is a good time to visit because the water is flowing and the additional moisture provides the mountainside with splashes of green grass and shrubbery covering the rocks. At the end of the fire road you’ll hit the main trail. Turn left to get to Seven Falls. You’ll see a sign marked “Trail” at the top of a slight uphill walk. Take this trail down to the creek and then get ready for some scrambling! In case you don’t know this term, scrambling refers to the act of climbing up and over rocks and boulders – pretty much my favorite thing to do on any given day. Seven Falls is about 3.5 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of 800 feet. You’ll scramble rocks and boulders of different sizes, scamper through pools of water, and of course, climb up and around water falls. I’d advise wearing shoes with a decent amount of traction (trail running shoes work) because some of the rocks can be a bit slippery. Beware that poison oak grows along the hike so watch out for those “leaves of three.”
After about 30 minutes of hiking up the creek bed, you’ll get to the first of the bigger waterfalls. When there is enough rain, it actually becomes a natural slide rock 15 feet in height that drops into a pool. At the top of this slide rock is a larger pool to wade in. Be wary of jumping into the pool without watching where you land. I still have a 15 year-old scar on my left shin, which I got when I launched into the pool prematurely, landing directly on top of a hidden rock. The large boulder behind the pool is your first more challenging climb. It’s about 20-25 feet high and you’ll scale this without any gear. Don’t worry, there are a ton of foot and hand holds that will aide in the climb. The trick is to keep your body close to the rock, trust your feet, and use the many naturally carved hand holds or cracks to jam your hand into. The next part of the climb is a bit more technical. It’s not as high as the first climb but has fewer hand and foot holds. You’ve got to switch feet a bit as a result, and the rock itself is very smooth. Staying limber and stretching is also a good idea as the foot holds are a bit farther apart. The rest of the hike will take you through a number of falls, slabs of rock to climb up and over, and pools to swim through. In case any of the scaling/scrambling over boulders freaks you out, you can always swim or slosh through the water or there is a trail that borders the majority of the hike. Trust me, you’ll like scrambling if you give it a try. Your heart will race, adrenaline will kick in, you’ll probably end up wet and may even rip your shorts (yes, this has happened to me while sliding down one of the rock faces on the backside of Seven Falls). Yet I guarantee you will end Pao Fit and Pao Wowed.