Distance – 3.75 miles from the lower trailhead; 4.5 from the river
Elevation Gain – 400′ from the river to start of lower trailhead; 2400′ to crest
Difficulty – Moderate to strenuous depending on distance
Topo – San Marcos Pass
This is a delightful trail that leads up through a narrow canyon and because it isn’t traveled too often, is a nice hike for those who want a bit of solitude. The narrow, rocky canyon is shaded and is filled with lush riparian vegetation and a cool creek that runs year round except in extremely dry years.
From Lower Oso drive .8 miles east on Paradise Road to the White Oaks turnoff. Turn right on it and drop down and across the river to the start of Arroyo Burro Road. Continue up the Arroyo Burro Road for a mile. The trailhead is just beyond a gate which is located in an open area to the right of the road.
The Arroyo Burro Trail is Santa Barbara’s most historic trail, probably built by the Chumash who used it as a trading route to interior villages. Sadly today, the portion of it on the coastal side of the mountains is almost never used since its lower half runs through private property and is off limits.
The trailhead is located almost opposite what was once Rancho Oso and is now operated as a large motor home park. Despite the proximity to these huge homes-away-from-homes, the canyon itself is both picturesque and pristine.
Because Rancho Oso once was famous for its horseback riding, you’ll find a number of side trails in the lower canyon, especially on the west side of the creek but shortly above they merge into one, the main route to the top. The trail alternates between steeper rockier sections and ones that are fairly level and the hike is a bit like climbing a large natural staircase.
The first half of the trail is the nicest. The canyon feeling is enjoyable and this section has a lush feeling about it, while the upper half of the trail leaves the canyon and passes primarily through chaparral. A loop hike can be made by continuing to the top of the trail and following the dirt road back down.