Zaca Peak overlook
Bike and Hike Out to the Best Views of Zaca Lake
Distance – 6.2 miles
Elevation Gain – 800′ to Zaca Peak; the road rises and falls along the way; there are several climbs on the way back on the Zaca ridge
Trail Conditions – Dirt road all the way. Level 2 and 3 single track down to Zaca Lake. See web site for updates
Difficulty – Moderate to moderately strenuous to lookout and back. Strenuous if you continue out to the top of Grassy Mountain.
Camping Options – The end of the Zaca Peak Overlook would be a great place to camp if you have enough water. No fires are allowed.
Topo – Figueroa Mountain and Zaca Lake
The Catway Road provides a wonderful way to get a feeling for the back country. The road wanders through pine forests and steep, grass-covered hillsides for 8 miles. Slightly less than 5 miles along it, a spur road leads for a mile and a half out to Zaca Peak, where you have views of the lake and the entire Santa Ynez Valley. Lookout Moutain Trail provides an excellent way to make this a loop ride, either by riding down to the lake and out to Mattei’s Tavern or riding and pushing your bike up the Zaca Trail to the main ridge.
From Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, take Figueroa Mountain Road 11.0 miles to the Catway turnoff. It is a half mile beyond the Figueroa Mountain Ranger Station.
Whenever I’m out on the Catway, I always try to leave enough time to ride out to the overlook because it is a pretty ride and the views are great. Plus, I love the short (though overgrown) hike out towards Overlook Mountain.
The ride across the Catway is 4.7 miles to the Zaca Peak turnoff, which you need to look for carefully because it is easy to miss. The spur comes in on a diagonal from the left just as the Catway begins the long descent to Cedros Saddle.
The Zaca road drops down for .25 mile, then rises over a small knoll and then drops a bit more sharply for .75 miles to a saddle. From there it is an easy .5 mile of gentle uphill to the road’s end on the south face of Zaca Peak. The Lookout Mountain Trail begins here, providing a pleasant break before the return ride back to your car.
The trail leads a quarter mile down to another saddle. The trail is overgrown and the shale is loose. I would recommend leaving your bike behind and walking, unless you are continuing all the way down to the lake.
On my last trip to the Zaca Overlook in January, 2001 the scenery was spectacular; it had just snowed and the high country was covered in white. But what impressed me most was watching a bald eagle soar below me, across the face of the Zaca ridge and through the saddle.
For those of you who have always marveled at the beauty of Grassy Mountain and wondered how you might get to the top of it, this is where you start. Continue down the trail until you’ve reached the saddle.
The Lookout Mountain Trail begins on the right. The manzanita is a bit overgrown but you should be able to spot it pretty easily. This leads across the north side of the ridge for several miles to the overlook. Along the way a connector leads down to Zaca Lake and is a spectacular route for those who are looping back to Mattei’s Tavern.
To reach Grassy Mountain, don’t take this trail; instead. look for a faint path leading up to the left on top of the ridge. This will take you for a half mile to the start of a connecting ridge which leads out to the very top of Grassy Mountain. The last several hundred yards can be hard to negotiate but once you reach the top and sit on the apex of this triangular peak you will be glad you came. In the spring this is incredible country. The entire front of the mountain blooms with acres of golden poppies and the deeply scented purples of the lupine.
If you are making this a loop ride, once you reach the end of the road continue down the trail to the saddle. It is a bit loose but the single track is pretty easy. Just before you reach the saddle there is a steep section you might want to walk. Look for the trail on the north side of the ridge in the manzanita.
The Lookout Mountain Trail was once too overgrown but in the early 1990s, when the area was burned in the Marre Fire, Hot Shot crews opened it up to fight the fire and it is still open enough to ride. For the first half mile the drop is gentle, though the brush is high enough on either side you don’t have much of a view. There are several places where you’ll need to walk around downed trees; otherwise the riding is very nice.
At the half mile mark the brush thins out, the pine forests begin to dominate and suddenly you find yourself with very nice views looking almost straight down on Zaca Lake. The trail continues to drop, leading around to the left into a small drainage and then around another hill. Shortly after this, look for the connector leading down to the lake. It is steep riding, with the trail dropping from an elevation of 3,300′ to 2,400′ in just over a mile. You may want to walk parts of it.
I would highly recommend taking time to ride or walk out to the end of the trail. It is 1.25 miles and ends just before the top of Lookout Mountain. The trail drops 50′ down to a saddle then climbs for the next .6 miles, gaining 330′ to the high point where you can see Lookout Mountain a half mile ahead of you. You will lose 200′ on the ride out to the trail’s end so this might be the spot to stop before heading back down to the lake.