Distance: 3 miles up the trail to its intersection with Romero Road; 4 miles to the top of the trail; 1.5 miles road distance from the intersection to Romero Saddle
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet to intersection with Romero Road; 2175 feet to the top of the trail; 2,000 feet to Romero Saddle
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Topo: Carpinteria (the trail isn’t on the map)
RECREATIONAL MAP SERIES: Map No. 2—Santa Barbara Front Country—Trail #9
Romero Trail is one of the few front country trails which actually constitutes a loop. This is because the trail starts at the bottom of Romero Road, now abandoned, and then intersects it again about two-thirds of the way to the top of the crest. The canyon is narrow and, though the creek is small, very picturesque. Because it is a bit out of the way the trail doesn’t enjoy the popularity of those directly behind Santa Barbara, meaning that often you will have it all to yourself. The upper end of the trail leads to the summit at the highest elevation of any of the crest trails, thus providing wonderful views (for more information about the upper trail look at the description for Romero Saddle listed under Crest Trails).
From Highway 101 take the Sheffield Drive exit. Follow it 1.5 miles to East Valley Road. Turn left, then almost immediately to the right on Romero Canyon Road and continue another 1.5 miles to Bella Vista and turn right on it. The trailhead is about 0.3 miles. You find a locked red steel gate marking the trail’s beginning.
Prior to 1978, Romero Road was the last remaining vestige of the primitive system of roads leading up to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Built in the early part of the century, it was the only automobile route to the mountain crest that hadn’t been paved.
A reminder of what travel over the mountain wall was like fifty years ago, this rugged and extremely narrow dirt road was still open to the public as late as the mid-70s. But 42” of rain in 1978 caused massive mud and rock slides. The road was closed for public use after this because the repairs were too expensive. Subsequently, nature has reclaimed most of it, making it more trail than road. Today it is still in service, used by hikers and mountain bikers, rather than for Sunday afternoon automobile tours.
Beyond the locked gate the dirt road rises for a half mile to a point where it splits. The left fork goes steeply up and over a ridge-line and eventually leads to San Ysidro Canyon; the right fork is the old Romero Road, which winds up around the front of a large peak then back left through a saddle and across the entire Romero drainage, finally reaching Romero Saddle 4.5 miles later.
A hundred yards along Romero Road, just after you cross the creek, the Romero Trail begins. The canyon is somewhat open near the bottom but narrows soon thereafter, with the trail crossing and recrossing the creek a number of times, and rarely very far from it. It is a quiet canyon, secluded, with plenty of nice spots to stop and rest, though no pools to dip in. In about 2 miles, near the upper end of the canyon, the trail crosses to the left side of the creek and switches back and forth several times until it reaches Romero Road.
The upper part of the Romero trail is just across the road. It rises steeply up the mountainside through thick chaparral for a mile to the to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the best views in town. Though no longer maintained and somewhat scarred by motorcyclists, an old trail—the Island View—leads along the crest. Following the ridge-line to the west leads to Romero Saddle and from there you can take the road back down.
It is 1.5 miles down to the trail intersection and from there another 3 miles along the road to your car. The hike down Romero Road is relatively gentle and the views are plentiful.