Red Rock Loop

In the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez area for this hike.  The loop consists of two very different halves, first a fire road that rises out of the canyon and provides nice views, followed by a rougher trek next to the Santa Ynez River with numerous crossings.  At the end of both legs there was a special treat, first Gibraltar Dam and Reservoir, and then a swimming hole beneath the big “Red Rock” for which the loop is named.  Good day!

1     2     3   Getting to the trailhead is quite easy.  From Santa Barbara and the San Marcos Pass (CA-154), turn right on Paradise Road.  After about 6 miles you will come to a split in the road.  Go right toward Red Rock Day Use Area.  The road narrows and there are several stream crossings, something to consider if it has been raining.  You will pass Red Rock Day Use Area on the left.  Keep going.  The road dead ends at a large parking area with two restrooms.  Photo 1 shows the end of the canyon portion of the hike.  The elevated portion of the hike, which I took first, begins at the opposite end of the parking lot near the other restroom and is known as the High Road.  The ascent is moderate.

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6   Photo 1 – The canyon bottom and river below.  Photo 2 – Finally, the road levels off.


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I turned a corner and noticed a bench and picnic table sitting by the side of the trail.  I wondered why they had been put there.  A look to the left and Gibraltar Reservoir came into view for the first time.

10   I continued on as the dam is over a mile away.  I passed this floodgate.

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Interesting looking dam

13     14   Off the road and past the dam is an area where they store equipment to maintain the dam and reservoir, I assume.  There are also a couple of picnic tables, one of which I rested at.  There are No Trespassing signs all over the place.  Clearly what they (the city of Santa Barbara) doesn’t want is for people to get anywhere near the water as it is a source for drinking.  Understood.  Still, all the signs made me feel like I wasn’t welcome there at all.

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Photo 1 – Gibraltar Reservoir  Photo 2 – After lunch I walked over to get a better look at the dam.


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Birds swarmed overhead near Gibraltar Reservoir.

20     21   I backtracked down the road and headed toward the river.  But then things started to get weird.  The road seemed to just end.  I took the barely visible footpath to the right.  I figured that once I got to the water I would just head downstream and pick up the trail eventually.

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24   It was rough going with a lot of poison oak. The trail had all but disappeared.

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29       30      31   I hiked next to the water for awhile searching for the trail.  Looking to my right above the grass I spotted something – the remains of the abandoned Gibraltar campground with cement steps which once led up to the outhouse.  The trail ran right through the camp.  I wanted to take the trail back toward the reservoir and see where I went wrong.  Where was the turn-off that I missed?  The trail came to a mess of mossy rocks and tall grass.  I gave up and started back toward the campground.

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34   Now back on the trail and past the campground.

35     36   Photo 1 – Stout looking poison oak

37   Mountain Reflections


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The water level wasn’t super high, just high enough to ensure that I would have to get my boots wet to get across in some areas.

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44   Now getting close to the end of the river trail – big red boulders begin to pop up.

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The Red Rock – This is the type of rock kids climb up and then jump off of into the water below.  Not surprisingly, some have died (I read).

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There is a spur trail to the left of the main trail that took me down to the water.  This is an awesome setting of huge boulders lining the shore.  This is less than half a mile from the parking lot.  Most people who visit this area don’t bother to hike beyond this point.

55     57   Heading toward the parking lot.

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Photo 1 – Now looking at the other side of Red Rock.  Can you imagine someone standing on top and jumping into the water below?

59   Thank you, Red Rock Loop.

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