Santa Barbara: Hiking the Trail to Seven Falls

Have you ever set out on what is supposed to be an easy hike only to find yourself returning hours later starving, sunburned, and scratched up? Well that happened to me recently on the Seven Falls trail in Santa Barbara, CA. Fortunately for you, I’ve outlined exactly what you need to know about hiking to Seven Falls so that you don’t emerge from the mountains of Santa Barbara looking like a doppelgänger for a Survivor contestant.

It all started innocuously, the kids woke up ridiculously early, as always, and we had a few hours to kill before the Santa Barbara Zoo opened. I had read about a hike that was only a few miles long, well marked, had great views, and a waterfall. Exploring the Seven Falls trail sounded like a great way to start the day.

Fast forward to five hours later: we get back to our car around 2 o’clock. Our chances of making it to the zoo are slim. As a family of four we haven’t eaten since breakfast, unless you count the one granola bar we shared because the other bar ended up being eaten by the dog. We are trying to figure out how to transport the dog in the car without him potentially spreading poison oak all over my mom mobile. On top of all that I watched my four year old walk absentmindedly through patches of poison oak despite all my best parental efforts to protect him from the evil leaves of three. All I can think about is: food, bathing my family in Tecnu asap, and was that hike worth it?

the Seven Falls trail in Santa Barbara takes you to this beautiful swimming hole in the hills of Santa Barbara
Swimming in the pools at Seven Falls is a nice way to spend an afternoon


Things To Know About The Hike To Seven Falls

  • Get there early, especially on the weekends to find parking. Even by 8:30am we had to park 1/2 a mile down the road from the trailhead.
  • This hike is best suited for adults. There are bouldering sections and steep drop offs that make it sketchy for young children. We saw a lot of people hiking that day but we were the only ones crazy enough to do so with a nine pound rescue dog, a six year old, and a four year old.
  • The trail is not clearly marked.. and there are lots of little forks in the trail
  • There is tons of poison oak. It is vertially impossible to make it to the falls without coming into contact with poison oak.
  • The trail allows dogs but you might have to lift your dog through some sections
  • There is no water and no bathrooms

The Seven Falls Trail in Santa Barbara, CA

1.Park along the road in any of the marked parking zones.

2.Walk up the road until you reach the gate and go through the gate area

two boys and a dog standing by a fire road gate. The Seven Falls trail in Santa Barbara starts off on a paved road.
The gate at the start of the trail to Seven Falls

3.Continue up the paved road. The views are incredible!

Dad holding hands with young boys walking a dog on a road through the mountains
On a clear day you can spot the Channel Islands in a distance on the trail to Seven Falls

4.When you reach the end of the paved area there is a fork in the trail. Take the trail on the left.

fork in the seven falls trail in santa barbara
Where the dirt trail begins and the adventure really starts

5.Keep going until your descend down to a small creek. Immediately after crossing the creek take the narrow trail upstream. This trail is easy to miss.

people playing in the water and picnicking at a creek. head upstream to go to take the Seven Falls trail. or go straight to inspiration point
Take a break in the shade by the creek before continuing on to Seven Falls.

6.The trail is a little overgrown with scrub brush type plants. Keep going.

7.Just past a big instagram worthy rock that is perched out on the ledge, you’ll encounter another fork in the trail. One continues up the mountain and the other goes towards the river. Take the trail towards the river.

Taking in the views before the rock scramble section of trail begins.

8.You will be descending towards the river and encounter yet another fork in the trail. Keep left, this allows you to follow the trail longer and shortens the amount of bouldering you need to do to reach the falls.

9.Soon you’ll be down at the river and needing to do some scrambling. Keep scrambling, carefully, over the rocks upstream.

big boulders in a creek in santa barbara CA
Be prepared for bouldering and possibly wet feet
dad and small son walking past big boulders on the Seven Falls trail in Santa Barbara
By afternoon the trail to Seven Falls is fully exposed to the hot Southern California sun

10.The trail will seemingly end at a big rock face. Believe it or not you must climb up this section to continue on.

group of people gathered at the bottom of a rock face
Getting up this rock face is one of the most challenging sections of the trail

11.From here it’s about twenty more minutes if you’re hiking at an adult pace. The trail gets a little better.

12.Congrats you’ve reached the falls! Take some pictures and cool off.

Getting to Seven Falls in Santa Barbara, CA

Tips/Advice

  • Bring water and get started early, it gets hot
  • Consider wearing pants to protect your legs from poison oak
  • If you can, hike to Seven Falls during the spring when the waterfalls have a decent amount of water in them and the wildflowers are blooming.
  • Ask for directions if you’re confused. This is a popular hiking area and the locals were happy to help keep us going in the right direction.
  • Just a heads up, cell service is not great once you get closer to the falls
  • Swimming in the pools below the falls is a nice treat, but be prepared for chilly water!
  • Consider hiking to Inspiration Point if you want more of a traditional hiking experience and less of a rock scramble.

What You’ll Need

  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat/sunglasses
  • Snack
  • Dishsoap/Tecnu for post hike removal of poison oak
  • Swimsuit
  • Backpack to hold your stuff and have free hands for bouldering.

A Note On Poison Oak

You might have noticed that I mentioned poison oak several times. This is because prior to doing this hike I had a bad reaction to poison oak. Having spent weeks itching, being prescribed different medications, and washing everything in our house I am now extremely vigilant about poison oak prevention. Since it’s basically impossible to avoid poison oak on the Seven Falls trail you will want to follow these three simples steps immedietly after your hike. The sooner you remove the urushiol oil, the less likely you are to develop an itchy rash.

  1. If you’re hiking with a dog wash your dog in lukewarm water with dish soap. Really lather Fido up and consider doing a second soaping/rinsing to really make sure you got it all off. Also wash the leash/collar/ harnesss.
  2. Take off your clothing and put it into the washer or a plastic bag. Rub Tecnu all over any parts of yourself that might have come into contact with poison oak or your dog. Let the Tecnu sit for a few minutes and rinse with cool water. Consider doing a second washing with dish soap. If you don’t have Tecnu dish soap works well too.
  3. Wash all clothing/backpacks/ shoes that might have poison oak on them. I wash with conventional detergent when I’m dealing with poison oak. I also wash with cold water and pick the “max extract”/ “extra rinse” options on my washer.

Bottom Line: Part hike/part creek bed scramble this “hike” is not suited for kids. The waterfall and the pool are a nice spot to relax on a sunny afternoon but compared to other waterfalls in California, Seven Falls just doesn’t have the same grandor. However, the views make up for what the waterfall lacks in wow factor. Keep your expectations low, and your sense of adventure high and you’ll enjoy the hike.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close