San Ysidro Falls

Los Padres National Forest / Santa Barbara / Montecito, California, USA

About San Ysidro Falls


Hiking Distance: 4 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2017-04-01
Date last visited: 2017-04-01

Waterfall Latitude: 34.46924
Waterfall Longitude: -119.6233

Waterfaller Newsletter

Get over the hump of the mid-week blues! Subscribe and get exclusive curated content delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_066_04012017 - San Ysidro Falls
San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_020_04012017 - Cacti along the San Ysidro Trail hinted at the hot and arid climate of the area around the San Ysidro Falls
Cacti along the San Ysidro Trail hinted at the hot and arid climate of the area around the San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_060_04012017 - An eroded part of the trail leading up to the San Ysidro Falls
An eroded part of the trail leading up to the San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_007_04012017 - Initially, the San Ysidro Trail passed between residences and along local streets
Initially, the San Ysidro Trail passed between residences and along local streets

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_018_04012017 - A gate that I encountered shortly past a fork with the McMenemy Trail as I stayed on the San Ysidro Trail en route to the San Ysidro Falls
A gate that I encountered shortly past a fork with the McMenemy Trail as I stayed on the San Ysidro Trail en route to the San Ysidro Falls

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).

San_Ysidro_Falls_025_04012017 - Approaching a trail junction between the Edison Catway (left) and the San Ysidro Trail (right)
Approaching a trail junction between the Edison Catway (left) and the San Ysidro Trail (right)

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_041_04012017 - One of the intermediate waterfalls on San Ysidro Creek as I continued ascending towards the San Ysidro Falls
One of the intermediate waterfalls on San Ysidro Creek as I continued ascending towards the San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_045_04012017 - Some of the interesting rock formations alongside the San Ysidro Trail
Some of the interesting rock formations alongside the San Ysidro Trail

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_052_04012017 - Looking down at some 25ft pair of converging waterfalls, which I suspected that Ann Marie Brown must have mistaken for the real San Ysidro Falls, which was still further upstream from here
Looking down at some 25ft pair of converging waterfalls, which I suspected that Ann Marie Brown must have mistaken for the real San Ysidro Falls, which was still further upstream from here

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_057_04012017 - Creek crossing and trail junction just on the other side as I was getting very close to San Ysidro Falls
Creek crossing and trail junction just on the other side as I was getting very close to San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_068_04012017 - Finally arriving at the San Ysidro Falls
Finally arriving at the San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_079_04012017 - Looking towards the Pacific Ocean from somewhere near the top of the San Ysidro Falls
Looking towards the Pacific Ocean from somewhere near the top of the San Ysidro Falls

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.

Authorities

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_003_04012017 - The official San Ysidro Trailhead, which started on the north side of East Mountain Drive
San_Ysidro_Falls_005_04012017 - Initially, the San Ysidro Trail passed between some private yards
San_Ysidro_Falls_011_04012017 - This was around where Park Lane West ended and the San Ysidro Trail followed a wide dirt track
San_Ysidro_Falls_014_04012017 - The trail junction with McMenemy Trail, which went left.  I kept right to stay on the San Ysidro Trail
San_Ysidro_Falls_022_04012017 - Some interesting rock formations alongside the San Ysidro Trail
San_Ysidro_Falls_027_04012017 - After passing by the Edison Catway trail junction, the San Ysidro Trail stayed close to the San Ysidro Creek, which had many of these minor cascades and waterfalls
San_Ysidro_Falls_029_04012017 - The San Ysidro Trail climbed more steeply the further up I went
San_Ysidro_Falls_031_04012017 - More minor cascades and waterfalls seen in San Ysidro Creek along the San Ysidro Trail
San_Ysidro_Falls_036_04012017 - Context of the San Ysidro Trail alongside San Ysidro Creek as I continued to make my ascent towards the San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_038_04012017 - There were quite a few spur trails leading back down to San Ysidro Creek, including one that took me to this little waterfall and wading pool
San_Ysidro_Falls_042_04012017 - Context of another one of the intermediate waterfalls on San Ysidro Creek with the San Ysidro Trail skirting alongside
San_Ysidro_Falls_043_04012017 - The higher up the San Ysidro Trail I went, the more it started to skirt alongside these interesting rock formations and cliffs (some of which had overhangs)
San_Ysidro_Falls_049_04012017 - Continuing along the ascending San Ysidro Trail en route to the San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_050_04012017 - More jumbles of rocks alongside the San Ysidro Trail as I continued my ascent to the San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_054_04012017 - It turned out that in this stretch of the San Ysidro Trail, I wasn't alone as this couple were headed back in the late afternoon
San_Ysidro_Falls_055_04012017 - Shortly after the apex of most of the climb to San Ysidro Falls, the trail then had to traverse this area that seemed somewhat affected by some recent landslides and rockfalls
San_Ysidro_Falls_059_04012017 - Shortly after crossing San Ysidro Creek, the trail to San Ysidro Falls then followed this somewhat reinforced section to head off any further landslide damage
San_Ysidro_Falls_062_04012017 - Finally making it to the San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_076_04012017 - Frontal look at the San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_077_04012017 - Just out of curiosity, I did a little more exploring of the other trail near the San Ysidro Falls just to see where it went
San_Ysidro_Falls_082_04012017 - Continuing up the San Ysidro Trail to see if there was anything interesting around the top of San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_083_04012017 - When I finally decided it was time to turn back around the top of San Ysidro Falls, I encountered this fellow who briefly joined me on the return hike back to the San Ysidro Trailhead
San_Ysidro_Falls_089_04012017 - Context of some of the cliffside scenery on the return hike to the San Ysidro Trailhead
San_Ysidro_Falls_090_04012017 - Context of the fellow hiker going beneath some interesting overhanging rocks or cliffs along the San Ysidro Trail
San_Ysidro_Falls_092_04012017 - Some wildflowers in bloom on this April Fool's Day in 2017 seen during the return hike from San Ysidro Falls
San_Ysidro_Falls_093_04012017 - Passing by some cacti as I managed to catch up to some other hikers on the return hike from San Ysidro Falls

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_001_04012017 - The street parking situation along East Mountain Drive when I got started on my afternoon hike to the San Ysidro Falls
The street parking situation along East Mountain Drive when I got started on my afternoon hike to the San Ysidro Falls

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.

San_Ysidro_Falls_094_04012017 - The street parking situation on East Mountain Drive when I returned from the San Ysidro Falls hike
The street parking situation on East Mountain Drive when I returned from the San Ysidro Falls hike

Overall, this drive took us about 15 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara.

Finally for some context, Santa Barbara was 95 miles (about 90-120 minutes drive) northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

360 degree sweep from right in front of the falls showing the stream, the landslide area, and the falls itself


Comprehensive closeup look from the bottom of the falls of the falls itself and the cliffs before scrambling back downstream for a more contextual look at the falls

Related Top 10 Lists

No Posts Found

Trip Planning Resources


Nearby Accommodations




Tagged with: los padres national forest, santa barbara, southern california, california, waterfall, san ysidro trail, san ysidro creek, locals, hike, montecito



Visitor Comments:

No users have replied to the content on this page


Share your thoughts about what you've read on this page

You must be logged in to submit content. Refresh this page after you have logged in.

Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

No users have submitted a write-up/review of this waterfall


Have you been to a waterfall? Submit a write-up/review and share your experiences or impressions

Review A Waterfall

Nearest Waterfalls

The Waterfaller Newsletter

The Waterfaller Newsletter is where we curate the wealth of information on the World of Waterfalls website and deliver it to you in bite-sized chunks in your email inbox. You'll also get exclusive content like...

  • Waterfall Wednesdays
  • Insider Tips
  • User-submitted Waterfall Write-up of the Month
  • and the latest news and updates both within the website as well as around the wonderful world of waterfalls
Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.