About San Ysidro Falls
San Ysidro Falls was an attractive 40-50ft waterfall with an underlying cliff that was colored with yellow and green algae and moss.
The falls very much reminded me of a larger version of the Little Falls in the Santa Lucia Wilderness near Arroyo Grande further up the California coast.
Being one of the handful of waterfalls in the Santa Barbara area, I had always been targeting the San Ysidro Falls for a visit.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another (drought, lack of time, etc.), I never really had a chance to make this visit.
That all changed when we made a spontaneous trip that occurred during April Fool’s Day of 2017.
As you can see from the photo above, this waterfall was no joke.
It certainly benefitted from the replenishing rains that most of Southern California had gotten earlier in the year, which helped to offset the drought that really hit Santa Barbara hard.
In any case, we found the San Ysidro Falls to be a very accessible hike that seemed pretty family friendly for the most part.
After all, I encountered many families bringing kids older than about 5-6 years or so.
Perhaps the only tricky part was the approach to the base of the falls where some cliff erosion and landslides made the footing a bit slippery and precarious.
This may change though because there were advertisements notifying the general public of California Trails Day on April 15.
This was where volunteers would restore the damaged parts of the San Ysidro Trail from the heavy rains that hit Santa Barbara earlier in 2017.
San Ysidro Falls Trail Description – from residences to the Edison Catway
Speaking of the trail, it started between some residences right off East Mountain Drive (see directions below).
Signposted as “San Ysidro Trail”, it passed between some private yards before joining up with West Park Lane, which was another residential road.
This road was full of no parking signs, and the absence of parked vehicles suggested that legal parking was not possible here.
In any case, I continued walking north alongside West Park Lane before the trail would start to leave the pavement and follow alongside San Ysidro Creek.
The creek had surprisingly good flow (considering how little water Seven Falls had earlier in the morning of my hike).
Anyways, the trail would pass by a couple of gates as well as a signed trail junction with the McMenemy Trail.
I kept right at this junction to remain on the San Ysidro Trail as the McMenemy Trail would cross San Ysidro Creek and head west instead of north.
The San Ysidro Trail would continue its gentle uphill trajectory while meandering alongside San Ysidro Creek.
Throughout the creek, I noticed numerous minor cascades and waterfalls, which constantly filled the silence with the calm sounds of rushing water.
In addition to the creek, the trail also passed by some interesting rock formations as well as a few groves of cacti (attesting to how arid this area can be).
At about a mile from the trailhead, I reached a signposted junction with the Edison Catway.
Up to this point, the San Ysidro Trail was wide and quite family-friendly, which was saying something for a waterfalling excursion in Santa Barbara.
The other well-known ones in the area like Seven Falls and Tangerine Falls were far more difficult.
San Ysidro Falls Trail Description – from the Edison Catway junction to the waterfall
But once I kept right to leave the Edison Catway and continue on the San Ysidro Trail, the trail was now considerably narrower.
Meanwhile, it started to climb a little more steeply than the gentle uphill trajectory that I was on up to this point.
Still, the San Ysidro Trail remained easy to follow and there were still more minor cascades and waterfalls along the way.
Some of these cascades had informal trails leading closer to them where wading or dipping pools awaited.
Anyways, at about another half-mile from the Edison Catway junction, the trail then led to another fork.
The left fork followed San Ysidro Creek and eventually disappeared into the creek.
The right fork continued to climb steeply up a couple of switchbacks before clinging to ledges with overhanging cliffs and boulders threatening to fall.
While the trail on the left fork would ultimately lead to a pair of converging waterfalls after some stream scrambling (pictured in Ann Marie Brown’s book), this was not the San Ysidro Falls.
Instead, the San Ysidro Trail continued up the right fork as it would gain most of its 1,200ft climb in this stretch.
By the way, I did manage to catch a glimpse of the converging waterfalls that I would have seen at the end of the scramble down below during this climb.
After another 0.3 miles of hiking, the elevation gain momentarily peaked.
Then, the trail descended past some landslide-affected section before continuing towards a crossing of San Ysidro Creek.
Continuing on the opposite side of the creek, the trail now followed a smaller creek as it had split off from its confluence with San Ysidro Creek near the stream crossing.
After a few more minutes of hiking along some landslide-reinforced parts of the trail, I encountered another trail junction.
A path followed the creek to the left and the main trail continued to the right as it immediately started climbing again.
I kept left at this junction, and after another minute or two of hiking, that was when I finally arrived at the end of the trail before the San Ysidro Falls.
The area around the falls definitely looked like it had suffered from some rock falls and landslides from the rains earlier in 2017.
However, I was still able to scramble right up to the rock wall at the base of the falls without any issues.
San Ysidro Falls Trail Description – brief exploration beyond the waterfall
Once I had my fill of the San Ysidro Falls, I explored a little bit of the main trail just to get an idea of what was up there.
I was at least curious about what the brink of the San Ysidro Falls might be like, or if I might stumble upon more falls up there.
Well, after making it to overgrown view of the brink of the falls, I decided there wasn’t a whole lot more compelling about that area.
So I turned back and headed back down the main trail while enjoying the nice views towards the ocean as I was well above the trees at the base of the canyon.
Overall, I wound up spending nearly 2.5 hours to finish the 4 miles of hiking.
That said, I probably didn’t need to go up to the top of San Ysidro Falls so that could have saved some more time and effort.
The return hike went quickly (less than an hour) because it was pretty much all downhill.
San Ysidro Falls resides in the Los Padres National Forest near Montecito in Santa Barbara County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Assuming that you’re driving east of downtown Santa Barbara to San Ysidro Falls, the quickest route was to go east on the 101 Freeway then exiting at the San Ysidro Road offramp (exit 93).
We then turned left onto San Ysidro Road and followed it for about a mile to East Valley Drive.
Turning right onto East Valley Drive, we then drove for about 0.9 miles before turning left onto Park Lane.
Next, we followed Park Lane for about 0.4 miles then we turned left onto East Mountain Drive.
We drove on East Mountain Drive for another 0.1 miles before we started looking for street parking.
The San Ysidro Trail began next to the San Ysidro Ranch on the north side of the street.
Overall, this drive took us about 15 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara.
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