Distance – 4 miles to Buckhorn Road; 7.3 to Upper Oso (requires shuttle)
Elevation Gain – 1250′ to Buckhorn Road
Difficulty – Moderate to Buckhorn Road; strenuous to Upper Oso
Topo – Little Pine Mountain (the trail is not on the map)
This trail gets relatively little use, making it nice for a more secluded hike. The trail leads up and across a high bench with nice views overlooking the pool at Live Oak. Above, it cuts across a series of saddles formed by a fault line. The area was burned in a 2,000 acre fire which was caused by a faulty muffler igniting the grass near the Falls picnic area. Now it is in the process of recovering and makes an excellent place to see the chaparral fire cycle in operation. If you have a shuttle you can continue the hike all the way to Upper Oso.
From Lower Oso, continue on Paradise Road for approximately 3 miles to the trailhead. A metal sign notes its location, which is somewhat nondescript spot on the banks of the Santa Ynez River. After you pass Santa Ynez Campground, and just after a split in the road (an oak tree in the road’s center) look for the sign on the left side of the road. From Santa Ynez Camp you can immediately cross the river and follow a trail which passes through a long meadow upstream to the trailhead.
Camuesa means “buckskin” in Spanish and I’m sure the trail was originally developed to provide access to hunting grounds in the Little Pine area.The trail has a nice quality to it. Rugged and remote, it seems a land that belongs more to the creatures that live here than to us humans, though whether through wildfire or prescribed burn we impact it a lot.
It is a trail that doesn’t really lead anywhere; rather it is a connector to someplace else. Yet that is okay. Whether you hike only up onto the bluffs overlooking the river or continue all the way to Upper Oso, it is a trail that I think you will enjoy.
While the river crossing is usually safe (if you drove here you can probably wade across) at certain times of the year this may provide your biggest challenge. The trailhead begins at the upper end of a long meadow and meanders up onto the top of an equally long bluff formed from sandstone. The top of it is grass covered and especially pretty, with plenty of places to walk over to the edge of the bluff. There are lots of good spots for sunbathing or picnics.
At the east end of the bluff the trail begins to rise, switching back to the west and up through a “window” formed by two tall hills onto a second, higher bench. It then rises again up a ridge, gaining several hundred feet, then drops into the first of several small canyons. This one is narrow and the trail goes directly up it and into a tiny oak-filled meadow. Beyond this the countryside has been blackened by wildfire, and it has a different kind of beauty-that of nature’s fire cycle – the chaparral undergoing the process of renewal.
From there several switchbacks wind through an oak forest to a large saddle (a nice resting spot). One more drop and another, longer, climb to a saddle bring you to the high point on the Camuesa Trail and a view out over a large grass meadow to the Buckhorn Road.
The scenic route to Upper Oso from here is right on the Buckhorn Road. The road climbs up to the right and then turns back to the left. A half mile up from the meadow start looking for a trail that leads off to the left. It is a little bit obscure but you should be able to find it. This is the Old Mine Road which drops down into the upper end of Oso Canyon. Serpentine outcroppings provide ample color and a nice contrast to the grasses, whether they be golden yellow or vibrant green. A mile down this road, turn left on a trail that leads to Nineteen Oaks (it is also a bit obscure). The trail drops for a half mile into the campground. Fifty yards below this is the Santa Cruz Trail. Follow this down-canyon for a mile and just before reaching the lower Buckhorn Road, look for a trail that drops down to the creek. This allows you to avoid walking on the road. From here it is another three-quarter mile to Upper Oso.