Mission Canyon Catway

Distance—1.75 miles to power lines; 2.25 to intersection with Tunnel Trail
Elevation Gain—1250' to power lines; 1600' to intersection with Tunnel Trail
Difficulty—moderately strenuous to strenuous
Topo— Santa Barbara

A must hike for power walkers. The dirt road is open and fairly easily traversed by most hikers. The route continues around the upper end of the east fork of Mission Canyon, bringing you high up on the mountain within a relatively short distance. There are excellent views out over Rattlesnake Canyon and the Montecito coastline. An off-trail route continues across a high ridgeline to Tunnel Trail, making a loop possible. Mountain bikers make use of the road quite frequently as a conditioning ride.

From the Santa Barbara Mission drive up Mission Canyon Road to Foothill and turn right, then turn left several hundred yards later (by the fire station). Continue up Mission Canyon to the Tunnel Road turnoff, a half mile before the Botanic Garden. Continue several miles to the end. Park properly. The police frequently ticket illegally parked cars. The trail begins about three-quarters mile beyond the locked gate.

The first time I was asked if I wanted to hike up to the power lines I thought my friend was crazy. After all, he knew I'd rather be out on a rock scramble or busting through the brush than hiking on a dirt road. But that was before. Now I know what it is really like.

Hiking on the dirt road is fairly pleasant and though it gains elevation quite rapidly, it isn't nearly as steep as those you'll find in the San Ysidro and Romero areas. Not having to worry about your footing also makes it easier to enjoy the views, and the higher you go the nicer and nicer they get. This is a great walk for those who like walking and talking with a friend or two and you can actually do it side by side, which is pretty hard to do when you are on a narrow trail, having to watch your every step.

The road ends abruptly near the upper power line and there are plenty of places to stop for awhile, catch your breath and sample the sights and minty chaparral aromas, but the surprise for me was what lay in store just beyond the road's edge. Cut into the thicker ceanothus, chamise and manzanita is an almost hidden trail, which I discovered leads up over the high ridgeline right above the power lines over to Tunnel Trail.

Without a moment's hesitation I quickly headed up the trail. A switchback or two brought me up on the ridgeline proper, which become more of a knifeblade, a thin, rocky edge leading west to a high point a hundred feet or so higher than my current location. By this time the trail had ended, turning into more of a goat's path but always open enough to get through pretty easily, and never hard to follow.

What views! Like most rocky ridges this one had plenty of ups n' downs, though mostly ups, leading me to the high point, which I found out later was almost directly above the peace symbol painted on the cliffs just off Tunnel Trail on one side and the Rattlesnake connector on the other.

I sat near the high point for a while; the views weren't that much different from the ones back down near the power lines but what a difference. Sitting in the middle of the mountain, perched on my own piece of the rock, I knew I had found my place.
Continuing on I found myself dropping quickly. Using the chaparral on either side for handholds made the down climbing much easier. Before I knew it I found myself sliding out onto Tunnel Trail at the Mission Falls viewpoint.

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