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Misty light and a coating of rain makes trails such as this in Cold Springs Canyon a delight to explore.

Ray Ford

Misty light and a coating of rain makes trails such as this in Cold Springs Canyon a delight to explore.


A Light Rain Makes for a Perfect Hike

The Colors in Cold Spring Canyon Glow with the Wetness


Last Saturday’s rain caught me by surprise. Five months of what seems like an endless summer will do that to you. In a land where the seasons barely change and the rain is usually concentrated in a few short months, an early October storm is a welcome change. When the rain is light as it was Saturday morning, I made a quick decision: to heck with that trip I’d been planning to Home Depot. I could do that later in the day, but for now the idea of a short hike up Cold Spring Canyon was much more appealing.

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Ray Ford

Like beach walks in the rain, hiking when the canyon walls are coated with a light coat of glistening wetness is an almost surreal experience. Though I can’t recommend hiking the trails when it is really pouring, because there is too much potential for damage, when they are wet the foliage takes on a softer shade of pastel, the alders and sycamore canopy a more emerald green color, the rocks a softness.

Cold Spring is a perfect canyon for such an adventure. Within yards of the trailhead on Mountain Drive, the trail rises above the canyon just enough to provide expansive views of the creek and the oaks that line it, a stately presence. With the glow of their misty covering and the indirect lighting that comes from sunlight filtered through a thousand feet or more of water-laden clouds, the details pop. Without the harsh glow of sunlight and shadow, the whole canyon becomes available for inspection.

Sycamore leaves turn yellows and reds in late fall and are especially beautiful when wet.
Click to enlarge photo

Ray Ford

Sycamore leaves turn yellows and reds in late fall and are especially beautiful when wet.

In the rain, somehow the canyon seems even more quiet, almost as if the clouds absorb the sound, like a pair of Bose headphones, sifting out the unwanted noise and filling it with a softer white sound. A quarter mile up the trail, the East and West forks of the Cold Springs trail split off, the main trail continuing up canyon to its eventual end at the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the other crossing the creek and heading up a side canyon to special places such as Tangerine Falls or the historic Cold Spring Water Tunnel, built at the turn of the century to expand Santa Barbara’s meager water supplies.

Whether east or west, both trails meander along beautiful sections of canyon. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years working as leader of the Los Padres Forest Association Trail Crew rebuilding these trails, and on this trip am appreciating the effort even more: The water is flowing off trail where it needs to and the walls we’ve built have made the trail much safer.

Poison oak is easy to spot in the fall due to its bright red coloring.
Click to enlarge photo

Ray Ford

Poison oak is easy to spot in the fall due to its bright red coloring.

Today I continue up the East Fork Trail. Not too far upstream between the first and second stream crossings the canyon walls steepen and the water cascades down through a section of narrows that provide a perfect spot to hang out when it’s hot, or in the case of a day like today, to survey the mixture of bedrock pools, water sounds, chaparral vegetation, alder, and sycamore.

For some, when it rains, the hardware store or lumber yard beckons, but for me it is time to get out and explore because it is then when canyons such as Cold Spring really come alive.

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