6.16.12 – santa paula canyon via thomas aquinas college

Some trails are maintained by local groups, like my friend Curt Cragg’s group in the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez area. Other trails are maintained by national groups like the Sierra Club. I’m not sure who maintains the Santa Paula Canyon trail but judging by the heavy graffiti throughout it, I’d guess it’s mostly gang members.

Nonetheless, this trail is a fun one. We (wife and I) parked on the street near the Thomas Aquinas College gate off of CA-150 at around 130 pm today. There’s a little parking lot there that had some spaces open, but there were so many signs put up cautioning theft – we thought parking on the road shoulder might be safer than said lot. Either way, we got out of the car and were on our way. We passed to the east (right) of the Aquinas gate and walked up the paved road for over a mile. The road goes around the eastern edge of the campus and into some sort of horse ranch and oil field. It is important to stay on the pavement and simply follow the signs that are well-marked during this part of the trail. At one point, there are like three different signs that say “trail” and have  an arrow pointing to a single track section behind a gate. This, as a rhodes scholar might guess, is the contiuation of the trail, where the pavement portion meets the dirt single track.

For the next mile and a half or so, the trail is fairly easy to follow. You travel around the creekbed and along well marked and maintained trails. If you lose your way, follow the graffiti and litter. However, further along, route finding becomes a bit of a challenge and you will be almost relying on the graffiti and litter trail. Of course, you’re in a canyon and there aren’t many directions to go outside of either deeper in the canyon or back towards the lot. However, there are different splinter trails that make it more challenging than one might expect. In my minimal research, I found that the main trail (East Fork) that we took was previously routed differently and more clearly, along the canyon walls, but that trail was washed out during a flood and rerouted through the trickier creekbed.

Anywho, back to our hike. Between the 3-4 mile range, this trail involved lots of creek crossings and boulder-hopping. I wouldn’t say bouldering but at least boulder-hopping, not unlike most creek/riverbed hikes. We found that my trekking poles were particularly helpful here. At one point, near our turnaround point 4 miles in, we saw a search and rescue chopper lifting off from up ahead on the trail. Not sure what happened there, hope everyone’s ok.

We got to 4.3 miles in and decided this would be a good time to call it a day. We think the waterfall and pools were just around the bend, but, alas, that creates additional suspense and surprise for next time. I know this trail turns into the Last Chance Trail and ascends up the mountains towards Hines Peak and the Topatopa’s. Next time we’ll go farther.

I’d recommend this hike to anyone. If you’re a person who is not in the best of shape, you can go two miles in from the trailhead and head back out. It’s pretty enough like that. If you’re more like us at this point, go 4 miles in, do some boulder-hopping, and then get back to your car with an 8 mile hike an appointment to replace those calories like we did at Ojai’s Wendy’s. And if you’re the Les Stroud type, go up the Last Chance Trail as far as your little heart and (hopefully strong) legs will guide you.


Getting there: Get to Santa Paula somehow. Take 150 north, past where it bends and turns west. You’ll see a parking lot/area just past St. Thomas Aquinas college on the right. Like I said, the street seemed safer for not having your car broken into…but that’s just me.

Time:4:10:00 (rock hopping slows one down a lot)

Distance: 7.9 miles r/t (in and back)

Elevation gain: 1132′

Weather: HOT! Temps wavered between mid 80’s in dark areas to mid 90’s in sunny and exposed areas. Clear skies.

Calories burned (estimate): 2500

Calories consumed: 400 (250 liquid calories from HEED/Crystal lite drink, 150 from Gu Chomps)

Water consumed: 2.5L water, .75L electrolyte drink.

Tip: Bring a water filter. You’re next to a creek and will want to drink lots of water! Trekking poles are also great here.

Bonus tip: Bring a bag or two and help clean up the crazy litter in this canyon. No bueno.

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Posted on June 17, 2012, in hiking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. We did this route as part of a longer trek winter before last; fantastic country up there (though a shame about the tagging). Check out http://www.craigrcarey.net/2011/01/the-santa-paula-trifecta/ if you ever decide to do the East Fork of the Canyon. Highly recommended!

    • hey craig, that account of the east fork is absolutely intoxicating! i love your t.r.’s on your site.
      do you know where the santa paula creek originates? is it springfed? I’ve been checking it on different topo’s and can’t find a positive response.

  2. Nice stuff, Matt. Haven’t been up that way for a number of years, but the pools up canyon still stand out in my mind.


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