Locally known as Tangerine Falls (but also known as West Fork Cold Springs Falls), this "Santa Barbara locals only" waterfall required quite a bit of an adventure for us to reach. The hike was not really that well signposted (for the waterfall at least) and we had to be willing to do some pretty rough scrambling with some poison oak exposure towards the end of the hike.
With that all said, the falls was reported to have a main drop of somewhere around 100ft with plenty of disjoint smaller cascades to bring its cumulative drop to a figure that might be more like 150ft or more. It seemed to have a rather short-lived flow depending on how much rain had preceded a visit so we actually timed our excursion for February. We were quite lucky that the weather had calmed down on the day we happened to be doing this hike because it was pouring rain in spurts the day before.
Speaking of which, given how non-trivial the hike was towards the end (which we'll get to shortly), you might want to rethink doing this hike/scramble if it's raining or threatening rain because there are plenty of difficult spots requiring clinging and climbing onto rocks that can easily be slippery when wet all the while going up steep gullies that can easily be muddy or flooded. And let's not forget trying to minimize skin contact with the ubiquitous poison oak.
From the trailhead (see directions below), we encountered a trail junction a few minutes into the hike. We had to make sure that we turned left at the signed West Fork Cold Springs Trail sign near a bench at this junction. By doing this, we left the Cold Springs Trail, which we were on to start the hike. Immediately thereafter, we crossed a creek then continued the trail as it followed a bunch of water pipes. We weren't sure what the pipes were for, but if we had to guess it was probably for water diversion.
During this uphill stretch of trail following water pipes, we managed to spot Tangerine Falls through the foliage high up on the mountains ahead of us. So that kind of gave us some sense that we were at least going the right way and that it was within reach.
Somewhere near the middle of the hike, we encountered an unsigned fork with the path on the right descending to a dry creek bed. We took that right fork and then we had to go around a landslide by going briefly downstream on the dry creek bed before turning left to get back above the landslip. Beyond this obstacle (which might not be there by the time you do this hike), we regained the trail while it continued to follow more water pipes.
After the last (third I believe) stream crossing, the water pipes started to disappear and eventually the trail seemed to have disappear on us as well. At that point, we embarked on our "adventure" and had to do some rock scrambling which eventually sloped steeply (requiring the use of our hands as well as our legs).
We didn't have the benefit of following other people when we did this hike so we had to persist despite lingering doubts that we somehow lost the trail. Fortunately, during the scramble, we did notice a glimpse of Tangerine Falls through the surrounding foliage so that at least clued us in that we should keep going (while also providing motivation to seek a better view).
It turned out that there were a couple of spots to view Tangerine Falls. The first spot we stopped at was below the main waterfall itself near some lower cascades. From down here, we were able to look up at the falls against the deep blue morning sky while hangliders were hovering right above the falls!
The second spot we stopped at was right at the bottom of the main waterfall. We actually weren't aware of the other spot until we saw a group of locals continue climbing further up the steep trail. So by the time we made it to the trail's end, it got pretty crowded at the narrow ledge fronting the main waterfall (as there was very limited space here). Nonetheless, from this vantage point, we could see the falls from very close up while also getting a nice ocean view looking downstream.
I'd have to say this was one of the more memorable hikes that Julie and I have done together, and it was probably because of this view along with the waterfall itself. Apparently, we weren't alone in our thinking because when we returned to the trailhead, we must've counted at least a half-dozen hiking groups headed the other way so I have to believe this is a pretty popular spot despite how rough the trail can get.
Ann Marie Brown said this hike was 2 miles round trip, but Julie and I swore it seemed quite a bit longer than that (more like 3 miles or so). After all, we spent about 2.5 hours doing this excursion (though this included the picture-taking). Regardless, short distances can be deceiving when it involves scrambles, and this hike was no exception.
You can reach the trailhead by getting off on Olive Mill St exit from the US101 in Santa Barbara.
Heading north on that road, it'll become Hot Springs Road. Then when it hits East Mountain Drive, turn left and follow this winding road for a bit (around 1.2 miles) until you reach a car park not far from where a creek crosses the road in a concrete ford.
There might be some cars already here to make the trailhead search easier (as was the case with us). Be careful not to leave valuables in the car as this area has had a history of break-ins as evidenced by some broken glass we saw on the ground.
From a geographical context, Santa Barbara was 100 miles (over 2 hours drive with moderate traffic) from downtown Los Angeles. Without traffic, this drive could easily be accomplished in about 90 minutes.
You can use the form below, but if you find our host's interface too troublesome to use (especially if you're trying to upload photos), then just send a text submission anyways using the form, but also let us know that you'd like to attach photos. If you've provided an email address via the form, then we can reply back acknowledging your request, and you can then reply to that email with your photo attachments. We're very sorry about this, but there's not much we can do about SBI's terrible interface.