Distance – 3.25 miles to Knapp’s Castle; 4 miles to Camino Cielo Elevation Gain – 2100′ Difficulty – Moderately strenuous Topo – San Marcos Pass (though trail is not shown on the map)
Snyder Trail provides a long hike, especially for those who are staying at Sage Hill. The trailhead is just a few hundred yards before you reach the Los Prietos Ranger Station where this camp is located. The trail leads up through the chaparral, into an enchanting oak forest, up through grassy meadows which have power lines crossing them (this is the Santa Ynez Fault line) and then finally around a large hill to the Castle. Along the way a side trail leads down into Lewis Canyon where Knapp once had a bathhouse. There are two waterfalls in the canyon, as well as poison oak guarding them.
From Highway 154, follow Paradise Road east for 3.8 miles. Look for a barbed wire fence on the right and a locked gate. If you reach the Los Prietos Ranger Station you’ve gone a few hundred yards too far.
The trail is heavily used by mountain bikers.
The first half mile of the Snyder Trail actually follows a dirt road which leads to a water tank – the Forest Service water supply. Beyond this it rises up through chamise chaparral to a shaded oak section which is quite unexpected. Switchbacks up through this allow you to enjoy an extended section of this, along with ferns, California bay, and other plants that prosper in the shade of the oak canopy.
In a mile the trail opens to grassy slopes, an environment that occurs here because of its proximity to the Santa Ynez Fault. The ground along the fault has been pulverized into a clay that grasses thrive on. At the two mile point from Paradise Road the trail ends and Knapp’s road begins. Heading to the left takes you down into Lewis Canyon. Though you’ll find old rusty pipes from the days when the Knapp Bathhouse was located here and two waterfalls, erosion and the intrusion of the chaparral makes it almost impossible to get to them.
The route up to the Castle leads to the right. It is another 1.25 miles to the ruins but the road is open and the climb gradual, making this part of the hike thoroughly pleasurable.