Author’s Note: Most of Parma Park burned during the Tea Fire in November 2008. The park will remain closed for the near future, though over time it will return to the natural state you see in the pictures included here. For more information about the fire impacts on Parma see Parma Park Restoration Could Take Years.
Distance-Varies from a half mile to 3 miles
Elevation Gain-375 feet
Difficulty-Easy to moderate
An excellent area to bring kids for their first hike. Close to the city yet a very remote feeling. There are trails leading in a variety of directions, making it possible to take a short hike or combine sections to create a 3-4 mile hike. The summit hike follows a long ridge to a high point where there are views in all directions.
Take Sycamore Canyon Road north to Stanwood Drive. Turn left and continue 0.7 miles on Stanwood to a sharp turn in the road where you will see the Parma Park sign. Park on either side of Stanwood but please do not block the park entrance. There are several entrances to the upper canyon on El Cielito and Mountain Drive. To reach the upper entrances, follow Stanwood 0.5 miles to El Cielito. The entrance into the upper meadows where the paragliders land is 0.1 mile on El Cielito. Or continue a quarter mile to Mountain Drive. Turn right. The first Mountain Drive trailhead is 50 yards along the way. It is 0.4 miles further to a trailhead leading down into the west fork of Sycamore Creek.
SETTING THE SCENE
It is an anomaly of sorts-there are almost no trail signs telling you where Parma Park begins, nor are the routes seemingly planned out. As you head up a hill and down through a canyon, suddenly you find yourself looking over at another trail shooting off, cutting up over a knoll or heading over to another part of the canyon. Rarely will you go more than a few hundred yards or so without spotting another one shooting off to who knows where.
Actually it is kind of refreshing to find it this way, more a maze of trails taking you here or there, depending on your mood and the shape you are in. Surprisingly, the park is one of Santa Barbara’s best kept secrets, yet is the largest block of undeveloped green space you will find anywhere in the city. Bounded by Stanwood, Mountain Drive, El Cielito, and Coyote roads the 200 acres of thickly wooded canyons and rolling chaparral and grass-covered hillsides form a great horseback riding and hiking area.
The acreage was once owned by the Parma family. G.B. Parma came to Santa Barbara more than 120 years ago, established a grocery store on State Street, and promptly bought the tract of land in what was then the “far hills.” Parma raised goats on the property. Apparently it was these animals, intent on foraging the hillsides, that decided where the trails would go.
In 1973, Harold and Jack Parma, sons of the elder Parma, gave the land to the city to establish a natural preserve. “The community has been nice to us,” Harold reminisced, “and we’ve been here so long. Every community should have some open space. I think it’s precious, something we could do in return for the community.”
From the picnic area near the park entrance you have two choices for the summit hike if you make this a loop trip. The Rowe Trail cuts through the picnic tables and crosses the creek, then continues east, paralleling Stanwood Drive. As you near the Sycamore Canyon intersection, the trail then turns north and heads steeply up a long ridgeline to the summit. You can then continue on down the next ridge back to your starting point.
However, I like making this trek the other way around. Perhaps it is because I like to get up on the top of the summit right away, enjoy my time there and then putter my way back along the chaparral section via the Rowe Trail. In either case you will have a great hike.
To do the hike in this direction continue on the dirt road straight up the east fork of Sycamore Creek. It isn’t a long section but the oaks are beautiful and near the upper end the small forest of eucalyptus is very impressive. At the eucalyptus grove the trail splits. To the left is the west fork canyon section. To reach the summit, turn right, drop down across the creek, then follow the road on uphill. It meanders alongside the creek for a bit then switches back to the right and climbs out of the canyon and onto a series of open, grassy meadows.
Gradually the road curves to the left around the hill and then heads straight for a quarter mile, leading you up a series of undulating hills to the final knoll which marks the summit. This is a great spot to stop for awhile and nearby you will find a marker
The summit is an excellent spot for you to turn around and head back the way you came. An alternative is to make this a loop hike, which you can do by dropping back down on the ridgeline which leads off to the side in the direction of Sycamore Canyon. The first drop down the fire break road is the steepest. As you get near the bottom of it look for a trail on the right. Below here there are several trail sections which make the downhill much nicer. When you exit from this first section of trail you’ll spot another trail on the left leading off the ridge. This looks like the way to go but it isn’t. Continue along the right side of the ridge road. Just when it appears you will have to go up a steep hill you will see another trail section on the right. Continue on it.
As you near the bottom of the ridge, the Rowe Trail begins. The ridge route continues down to Stanwood, almost directly across from Conejo Drive. The Rowe Trail leads west and parallels Stanwood for a mile back to your starting point at the picnic area. This is a very pretty section though there are quite a few ups and downs as you make you way along the hillside.