Santa Ynez Canyon Trail
Summary for Santa Ynez Canyon Trail Hike
Easy (or perhaps Moderate if you go past or climb above falls)
2.5 Miles Round Trip
Easy hike to a lovely sculpted sandstone gorge with a small seasonal 15′ waterfall. Close to civilization, but a surprisingly wild and scenic canyon, and with no fees for parking or access.
Santa Ynez Canyon is a substantial canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, and drains some of the highest parts of Topanga State Park. The lower portion has been all but lost in the engineering of a reservoir, and the road running up the canyon, but the upper segment thankfully remains remarkably pristine and beautiful. A nice feature of this hike is that the trail head is on a city street with ample parking and there are no fees for parking or access to the park. Note that dogs and bikes are not allowed in Topanga State Park.
The trail takes you through a riparian woodland of old growth oaks along the stream, which flows strongly only after big rains or late in wet winters. However, it’s a nice tranquil hike at any time with plenty of shade, although it can be hot in the summer and there is usually little or no water then. For those who are looking for more adventure, it’s possible to climb above Santa Ynez Canyon Falls and onto the dramatic sandstone formations on the side of the canyon. This then becomes an adventure hike, so be sure you know what you’re doing. But hiking just up to the waterfall is easy with the greatest challenge being slippery rocks in the last 100 yards or so before the fall, where the trail ends and you have to negotiate your way up the stream bed to the falls.
Directions to Trailhead for Santa Ynez Canyon Trail Hike
Map of Santa Ynez Canyon Trail Hike with Downloadable GPX File
Detailed Description for Santa Ynez Canyon Trail Hike
After you have parked along Vereda De La Montura, simply walk past the trail head sign and down the trail.
Soon you cross the stream on a concrete bed that is part of the engineering of the nearby reservoir. Simply continue along the obvious and well-graded trail ahead. Soon you will feel removed from the civilized society so near, as the sounds of the road dissipate quickly, and you are in the lovely wooded canyon bottom along the stream.
After about .5 mile you will encounter a trail junction, with a sign indicating the waterfall, and pointing towards it. The main trail ahead and to the left can take you to several other destinations, like Eagle Rock and Trippet Ranch, but those are different hikes. For our hike we branch to the right towards the waterfall.
You continue on along the stream, as it contours along the peaceful shaded canyon bottom.
Soon you will encounter another sign indicating the waterfall is ahead.
Now the gorge begins, and there is no trail moving forward. You will have to pick your way forward as best you can along the stream bed. The waterfall is only about 100 yards ahead, so be careful of slippery rocks, as there is usually some water here, and at times a substantial amount. There are some nice clear pools at the right times, but it’s really a beautiful and tranquil place in any season.
Soon you arrive at Santa Ynez Canyon Falls. It’s a lovely little grotto in a dramatic gorge with sculpted sandstone walls. Note that often there is only a trickle here, but even then it’s a shady and serene spot.
There is usually a rope hanging to the left of the falls, but be careful about trusting your life to this unknown rope. Progress ahead is only for those skilled at rock climbing/off-trail scrambling. The area above Santa Ynez Canyon Falls is quite beautiful as well, similar to this area below the falls.
Note that you can also get above the falls if you go back to near the sign at the beginning of the gorge. Here you will see a use trail that ascends steeply up the side of the canyon. You can use this trail, or by climbing above the falls, to access the sandstone formations to the right and above the canyon. From here you can get spectacular views of the canyon and surrounding area, as you can see in the photos and video below. But as noted, this is only for those skilled at rock climbing/off-trail scrambling.
Once you have enjoyed the falls and/or the surrounding area, simply retrace your steps back to your vehicle.
Video of Santa Ynez Canyon Trail Hike
Here a perspective from high on the canyon walls above the waterfall.