Lake Cachuma

A day for exploring Lake Cachuma and a few stops along the way.  I was in Santa Barbara and heading up San Marcos Pass before the Sun came up.  In order I visited: Chumash Painted Cave Park, Knapp’s Castle, Cold Spring Arch Bridge, Lake Cachuma and a rock garden/climbing destination known as Lizard’s Mouth.  Lots of driving and I’d guess only about seven and a half to eight miles of actual hiking, but I was rewarded with a fine adventure.

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My first stop was Chumash Painted Cave Park, which is really just a small cave a few steps off a narrow, windy road.  There’s very little room to park.  I was here to see some 500 year old cave paintings created by the native population.  As can be seen, a heavy grill has been placed in front of the mouth of the cave to prevent people from vandalizing the paintings.  Apparently the meaning of these paintings has been lost to time.

5     6   I continued up Painted Cave Road and came to a junction with East Camino Cielo.  I took the right turn and drove 0.9 miles to the trailhead for Knapp’s Castle.  There is no trail sign, but there is a rust colored gate across the trail and an empty mailbox marked “Bike Bells”.  Knapp Castle is only about a half mile away.


8     10   I arrived on the Knapp Castle site and took a look around.  The morning light glowed as the soupy clouds filled the canyons and washed over the hills below.


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The ruins of Knapp’s Castle – built in 1916, destroyed by fire in 1940.


Sunrise on Olympus

16     18   After Knapp’s Castle I drove back down East Camino Cielo, continued past the junction with Painted Cave Road and soon came to the 154, aka San Marcos Pass.  I quickly turned off the 154 and on to Stagecoach Road.  This was the road people had to take before the Cold Spring Bridge was built in 1963.  This road takes you directly under the bridge and also to the historic Cold Spring Tavern.

17   Founded in 1886, the tavern is still operating today.


I approach the underbelly of Cold Spring Arch Bridge, 400 feet high, 1,200 feet long.

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22   The bridge is kind of awe inspiring from below.  I noticed some memorials along side the road – crosses and mementos, the kind of thing you see along the highway.  I quickly realized these memorials were not for car accident victims but rather for those who had leapt to their deaths from this bridge.  My mood turned somber.

23     24     25   I took Stagecoach Road up to the 154 and made a left when I should have made a right.  I didn’t realize I was going the wrong way until I crossed over the bridge.  I stopped on the other side to get some photos.  You can see the new anti-jumper fencing erected just a year and half ago.  The fence is controversial because it spoils the once open view that drivers enjoyed as they crossed over.  One person has jumped since the fence went up.  There have been dozens of suicides since completion of the bridge in 1963.

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I started back up the 154 again, this time in the correct direction.  Soon I arrived at Lake Cachuma.  There are about seven miles of trails around the lake.  I began with the shortest one – Mohawk Trail.  It takes just a few minutes to complete this quarter mile loop.  I then parked over by the Nature Center to pick up Oak Canyon Trail.  The Nature Center has a few humorous displays, such as this section of dead tree placed in a casket.

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Photo 1 – I found following the first trail to be a little confusing.  I wandered around and found myself off the trail at this lookout.  I soon found the trail again.  Photo 2 – I used to camp with my family at a lake in the general area.  The look and feel of the area, such as these moss covered trees, brought back memories.  Photo 3 – I’m unsure if it is a seasonal thing but the water level of Lake Cachuma seemed really low.  I saw a couple of docks like this one at Harvey’s Cove, high and dry.  Photo 4 – The official start to Cachuma’s main trail, Sweetwater Trail, begins at the parking area by Harvey’s Cove.  There’s a sign for it.  Here is the picnic area at Harvey’s Cove.

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Look at how far away the water is from the pier.

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Turkey Vultures swarmed the skies


On the Eve of War

39     40   A good stretch of Sweetwater Trail travels through a corridor of view blocking brush.   In Photo 1, however, Broadcast Peak and Santa Ynez Peak can be seen from the trail.  Both have antennae sitting on top of them – Broadcast Peak is to the left and Santa Ynez Peak, a mile and a half away, is to the right.  Photo 2 – Mountains beyond the lake.

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The trail sticks close to the water but is almost always just a bit inland and away from the views.  There are numerous footpaths that take you out to each point.  I would suggest taking as many of these as you have time for.  Without them the trip might get pretty boring.  Photo 1 looks back at the Sweetwater Picnic Area.  It is signed but I didn’t see any picnic tables.  Photo 2 shows the rest of Sweetwater Cove.

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I came to a T junction on the trail. I headed right toward the beach.


46     47   Photo 1 – I found a shell on the beach.  Photo 2 – After the beach I took the trail running in the opposite direction.  It leads up to a parking lot and Vista Point.

48   The view from Vista Point is mainly of Bradbury Dam, without which this lake would not exist.

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53   Found an interesting tree on the way back, which you can stand inside of.


Panorama of Lake Cachuma

55     57   My last stop was Lizard’s Mouth, which is nearly four miles up narrow West Camino Cielo.  The trail is marked with a kiosk and a few general hiking signs, but does not say Lizard’s Mouth.  However, there is a shooting range very close by.  If you find yourself at the shooting range you’ve gone a hundred yards too far.

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There isn’t really a true trail here, but rather a network of little trails leading in and around this natural jungle gym of a park.  There are lots of caves and crevices and boulders to explore.


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Some areas get quite narrow.

68     67     69   There is an actual rock called Lizard’s Mouth.  I wandered around looking for it but so many of the boulders looked like they fit the description.  I know now that Lizard’s Mouth was right behind me when I took Photo 3.  Basically, it’s down and on the right hand side.

70As I searched I came across two others exploring the park.  They were kind enough to lead me over to Lizard’s Mouth.  That is Cameron lying down under the big rock and Alex standing nearby.  Thanks for the help!

71     72     73   Photo 1 – Looking straight up at the roof of the Lizard’s Mouth.  Photo 2 – A climbing hook bolted to the top.  Photo 3 – Sitting in the shade, looking out toward the ocean.

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Photo 1 – Nearby Broadcast and Santa Ynez Peaks, which I also saw from Lake Cachuma.  Photo 2 – Santa Barbara below


  • Would love to see a map attached to your post(s) showing where you were travelling…
    Love your pictures, will visit more of your pages….
    Thank you

    • Thank you, friend! I carry a GPS and I’m sure I can get maps of the hikes from it somehow. I also find that kind of info very helpful. I’m just not very technical when it comes to my computer. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday.
      Silent Hiker

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