Distance - 1-2 miles
Elevation Gain - 300’ to the high point as it parallels Ortega Ridge Road
Difficulty - Easy
Topo - Carpinteria
Thanks to the efforts of the Montecito Trails Foundation (MTF), which maintains the trails in this area, there is a network of trails, some of them hidden, throughout the Montecito area. In the area between Sheffield Drive, Ortega Ridge Road and East Valley Road there are several of the most exclusive riding clubs to be found here as well as a combination of trails which allow you a glimpse of Montecito you won’t see any other way.
From Santa Barbara, drive southbound on Highway 101 and exit north on Sheffield Drive in Montecito. Turn left, cross under Highway 101, then curve right to the start of Sheffield Drive. To start your walk from the Valley Club, park off the road near the entrance to the club. The trailhead is just to the right of the entrance. To begin at the other end of the trail network, when you reach Sheffield Drive, bear to the right on Ortega Ridge Road and continue uphill to the stop sign. Turn left on Ortega Ridge Road and drive 1 mile north. Park along the side of the road.
SETTING THE SCENE
My first hint of the Montecito trails system came a number of years ago when I began perusing a map designed by the MTF that the organization provides to each new member. I was amazed to see the amount of trails that exist in Montecito between the freeway and East Valley Road. Many of them are short and of benefit only to nearby residents, but there are a number which anyone will find delightful.
One of the nicest areas to walk more or less traces the interior borders of the area between Sheffield Drive, Ortega Ridge Road and East Valley Road. Within this area you will find three trails that can be combined to create a wonderful walk. These include the Ketcham Loop, Valley Club Trail and Cynthia Wood Trail.
The easiest way to begin your walk is from the intersection of Sheffield Drive and Ortega Hill Road, just after you have exited the freeway. Look for the small parking area on the right side of the road opposite the turn onto Sheffield. Though it isn’t easy to spot when you are driving by, the Ketcham Loop begins just to the right of the entrance into the riding club.
The first several hundred yards of the trail heads uphill and parallels Ortega Hill Road but just below it. As you rise you begin to get your first glimpses of the Montecito Valley and the mountains behind them. The trail gradually turns to the north and for the next half mile contours the side of Ortega Ridge, gaining elevation slightly. The views are better and better as you near the north end of the riding club and the start of the Birnam Wood Golf Course.
As you near an open area that is relatively flat the trail splits. The Ketcham Trail drops down an old road into an open area between the riding club and the golf course and then follows Romero Creek back to your starting point. Continuing on takes you onto the Valley Club Trail. This part of the walk brings you to the highest point and the best views. You can spot many of the holes on the Birnam Wood course, as well as the homes that are situated along many of the fairways.
For the next quarter mile the trail is almost level and takes you just under several of the homes up on Ortega Ridge. One has what one of the best tree forts I’ve ever seen. Just beyond this point the trail comes to the edge of Ortega Ridge Road at the point where the road begins to drop down towards East Valley Road. Across the road in a small draw the Summerland Trail will take you down into the upper end of Greenwell Avenue (see Walk #11).
Often, I begin my hike from this point, following the Valley Club Trail to the Ketcham intersection and back. It is about a mile out and back and is especially nice in the evening light, when the views out over the Montecito area are especially beautiful.
To continue all the way to East Valley Road on the trail, look for the Cynthia Wood intersection. This trail leads sharply down the hill over a series of steps created from railroad ties to Romero Creek where the trail splits. The left fork meanders a bit through the oaks and along one of the Birnam Wood holes then crosses Romero Creek and ends on East Valley near the Romero bridge.
The right fork follows the creek upstream past the riding club that you could see from above you on the Valley Club Trail. It, too, exits onto East Valley Road near the intersection of Ortega Ridge Road. You can re-trace your steps from here or cross Ortega Ridge Road and continue on the Cynthia Wood Trail. This will take you up a steep hill which is several hundred feet high. Near the top of the hill the trail splits, with the left fork dropping down into Summerland and the right fork heading back to the west across the hill near several nurseries to Ortega Ridge Road. Cross and re-connect with the Valley Club Trail and follow this back to your car.