Taking on Tunnel
Hike of the Month: Tunnel Trail
Length of the Trail: 10.5 miles round trip
Elevation: Approximately 3,000 feet
Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
How to Get There: If driving southbound on the 101, take Exit 99 for Mission Street and turn left, followed by another left on Garden Street and drive until you reach the Mission at the corner of Laguna and East Los Olivos Street. Head up East Los Olivos to Foothill Road (HWY 192) and turn right at the stop. Follow foothill as it turns left onto Mission Canyon Road. At the fork, take Tunnel Road. The trailhead is at the end of the road. (BE SURE you are completely within the designated parking or there is a good chance your car will be towed.) Hike up to the end of the road by a large water tank and metal gate. Close to a mile later, the paved road becomes dirt and you should soon see a sign for Tunnel Trail to your right.
Description: One of the most beautiful and challenging hikes in Santa Barbara, Tunnel Trail is also one of the most popular test pieces for mountain bikers. While admiring the lush and varied scenery surrounding the trail, make sure to keep alert for those descending and be courteous to other hikers and bikers as the trail gets very narrow in a few areas.
At about the two-mile mark, you will encounter a sharp right turn into a shady hillside. This offers some welcome relief from the sun, and is inhabited by a variety of flora and fauna. You continue through this shaded portion (about .25 miles) and eventually come to a crossroads marked by an old, weathered sign indicating the junction with Rattlesnake Canyon Trail—one of the many smaller trails that intersect Tunnel.
At the three-mile mark, you will see a large rock formation that makes for a perfect place to stop and rest. Past this formation comes a creek-crossing that’s very rocky but often dry. After about another mile, you will reach the top of the trail at East Camino Cielo Road and the choice to either retrace the trail down or continue left and enjoy the roadside views of Santa Barbara Channel all the way to La Cumbre Peak (3995ft), the highest point in the frontcountry. Breathtaking in both effort and reward, Tunnel Trail makes for an unforgettable getaway—just don’t forget water and sunscreen!