Peak 4,580ft
Peak 4,300ft P300
Peak 3,668ft P300
Zaca Ridge

Sat, Jun 15, 2019
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX


I was in Santa Barbara County to pick up my daughter from school at UCSB and had a day to kill before she would be ready to go in the evening. I had spent the night camped at Cachuma Saddle, high in the San Rafael Mtns where it was cool and quiet and I slept beautifully. I planned to do a couple of short hikes to start, then a longer hike along Zaca Ridge, then a much longer bike ride in the Santa Ynez Mtns. I never got to the bike ride because I'd had enough with the morning's agenda. Turns out, June isn't really such a good time to hang out in the Santa Barbara backcountry. The coast chaparral flies are out in force, the grasses have all gone to seed and temps can be uncomfortably warm, to top the list of unpleasantries.

Peak 4,458ft

This unnamed peak lies a short distance east of Ranger Peak. It is most easily approached from the west starting at the saddle with Ranger Peak. An old firebreak has a use trail zigzagging its way up the firebreak through the brush, going over a first bump, down to another saddle, then up to the summit. Nice views, particularly of the vast ocean of fog blanketing the Santa Ynez Valley and Lake Cachuma areas.

Peak 4,300ft

I next drove west on Figueroa Mtn Rd, turning right at the junction with dirt Zaca Ridge Rd. The road has deteriorated significantly since I was last here in 2014. At that time, I had been able to drive the van to the Zaca Ridge TH, though not without some trepidation. Today it required high-clearance and possibly 4WD due to large ruts which now plague the road. Before getting to the Zaca Ridge TH, I first stopped off to tag Peak 4,300ft, an easy bonus peak northeast of Zaca Peak. I parked at the north end and hiked up a somewhat overgrown firebreak to reach the summit in five minutes. Good views, particularly of Zaca Ridge to the west.

Zaca Ridge

The Zaca Ridge Trail runs for almost 3mi along the ridge heading west from Zaca Peak, passing under the southwest side of Zaca Peak and the north side of the Zaca Ridge highpoint before following more closely along the ridge. On paper it looks like a wonderful trail with great views, but reality is something different. Much of it passes through chaparral well over head level and it was in poor condition on my visit. I spent far too much time crouching and ducking and stumbling along the trail to find it enjoyable. Views were fleeting, though nice when available off the north and south sides of the ridge. The most notable incident was when I came upon a pigeon-sized momma bird with a brood of 13 young ones in a small clutch right on the trail. I stopped as soon as I saw mom move off into the brush on my approach, then looked down to see the 13 walnut-sized chicks sitting silently in a huddle. I had no way to continue without disturbing them, but figured mom could round them up when I did. As I moved to step around them, they suddenly scattered in all directions. Mom almost immediately began making calls to retrieve them and as I moved past them I saw them redirect their frantic efforts in the direction of her calls. Upon my return I was happy to see she had not retaken up residence in the trail.

I had originally hoped I might continue as far as Lookout Mtn at the far western edge of the ridge, but the condition of the trail had me thinking the last section of non-trail would be horrible and I decided against continuing to the end. Instead, I pulled up short at the top of Peak 3,668ft about a mile short of Lookout Mtn. The summit of Peak 3,668ft was buried in the brush at the base of an oak tree, no views. The highpoint is found only a short distance off the trail, so there was no real bushwhacking to gain the top of this one. I had passed by the Zaca Ridge HP on my way out, but decided to give it a try on the return. Finding no real way up from the west or north, I was happy to find a use trail going up from the east along the ridge where a trail sign is found marking the junction. This use trail, not shown on the maps, was no worse than the official Zaca Ridge Trail and nicely took me the 0.3mi to the summit without much trouble. Its summit, too, was buried in chaparral, this time in a thick clump of old manzanita. By the time I returned to the Zaca Ridge TH around 10:30a, I was feeling done for the day, short as it was. My shoes and socks were filled with thistles, my clothes were wet with sweat and covered in all sorts of leaves, stickers, and far too much plant pollen that had me coughing and choking. I'd swallowed a few flies and flicked off a number of ticks from my pants - this was about as much of the Santa Barbara mountains I wanted to experience at this time.

After a refreshing shower and change of clothes, I drove back down to SR154, then up to San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara. Tired, I decided to stop near the fog-enshrouded summit and take a long nap off West Cielo Rd. This would fortify me for the late night drive back to San Jose with daughter in tow. Now I just had to find something to occupy me in Goleta for 4-5hrs...

Anonymous comments on 06/17/19:
Mountain Quail! Way less common than CA Quail...
george comments on 06/25/19:
I've climbed Lookout Mountain twice from the ranchlands to the south. You start on the Midland School property, who allow hiking, and head off west on some ranch roads and eventually head straight up the south slope along an old fire cut. It's a pleasant outing, especially in the spring when the flowers can be impressive. It seems like it would be quite difficult to get caught out there, as there are no structures, few cows and the roads look seldom-used. We've looped around and returned south down another ridge which has some nice rocky outcrops on it. I don't recall west Zaca ridge being all that bad, but long pants are a good idea.
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