IMPORTANT: The trail as you may remember it, or have seen in books or on maps (including the map on this site) has been re-routed twice in the past 3 years.
There are two (well, actually 3) starting points for Cold Spring Trail. I find that the easier starting point is not at the rusty metal sign, but at the Montecito Trails Association Sign before the water crossing. It's marked with a sign and garbage can. Careful starting this hike at this point because there are two trails starting a few feet apart from one another. The steeper trail is not described here, but makes a nice, steep hike that eventually meets Cold Spring Trail again making for a perfect loop (with a choice of a shorter or longer loop) just right for an evening workout after work.
Back to the trailhead. The Cold Spring Trail immediately climbs some steep, wooden steps. The trail continues through refreshing creekside scenery.
At about 1/4 mile you reach a bench and a junction with the West Fork of the Cold Spring Trail. The trail is marked with a rusty sign and crosses the creek. Take this trail, which is to the left.
The trail climbs uphill following a water pipe. You can hear the water rushing inside it in some places sometimes. At some points the pipe is rusted through and empty. If you have been wondering where it goes, here is your chance to find out.
At just under the one mile mark there is a junction with an unmarked trail heading off to the right, downhill to the creek. You will see a giant boulder to the right and a giant boulder straight ahead. To the right is the trail to Tangerine Falls (described below). To the left is the main West Fork Trail which summits at Gibraltar Road.
Taking the left fork. As you continue you will cross the creek here and there on a gentle trail. You will be following a pipe much of the way. For a stretch the trail may be overgrown with blackberries, grasses and poison oak. There may be some steep sections.
Next, you will come to the water pipe with a cable attached to it. You have to cross the creek here.
Soon you will see the water tunnel, built in 1905. It was built by mining straight through the mountain. Keep out. Please practice Leave-No-Trace principles, too.
The trail continues past the water tunnel. At this point the trail is newly built and quite wide. In some places there is no shade (especially so since the Tea and Jesusita fires). There are numerous switchbacks and then a small descent as the trail traverses a small ridgeline. The descent takes you through a chamise forest, then you find yourself back in the shade, going up again.
At some point you reach the original trail again. At this writing you could still see, faintly, the original trail where this new trail meets it, but it would be easy to miss. It's amazing how fast the chaparral grows back.
The trail continues to climb, sometimes a bit steeply. Much of this climb is newly re-routed with signs pointing away from old trail and toward new trail. It switchbacks toward the summit at Gibraltar road, for approximately 1.75 miles.
To return to the trailhead, turn around and go back the same way you came for an approximate 3.5 miles round trip.
At the junction with the two big boulders, take the fork on the right heading down, crossing the creek diagonally downhill, then back uphill and sharply to the left to the other side. Soon after this creek crossing, you may notice another trail that veers off to the left just where you have to step over the pipe. That trail will take you above the falls and further into a shaded canyon. It is very, very steep and goes to an overlook spot that is above Tangerine Falls (although the falls are not visible at the spot) and beyond to an old homestead where there are some rusty old things and a stone structure.
The route to Tangerine Falls can be treacherous and difficult to follow. In wetter months creek crossings may be difficult and the trail in some places can be slippery to the point where it may be too dangerous for some people to attempt. In drier years, the trail can still be too slippery as the soil changes to a consistency like tiny ball bearings. In some places you have to hold on to tree roots and climb steep gullies with nothing below you but a terrifying chute leading to certain death on the rocks below.
If you can manage the boulder hopping, the poison oak and the treacherous conditions (and many people can), once you reach the falls themselves, the rocks are slick from the constant action of the water and it can be difficult to get yourself right up to the falls. But many people can do it, and if you are one of them, you'll be rewarded with an ice cold shower under spectacular falls when water is flowing. The Tangerine name comes from the slight orange tinge to the travertine that has built up under the falls.
The falls are the summit. You can't really go much farther. Some people are able to climb/scramble up above the falls, but it's quite dangerous to do, and I was stung by a swarm of yellow jackets the last time I tried it. I will never do that again! (I still have nightmares.)
To return home, reverse your route. Total miles round trip is about 3.
Santa Barbara Hikes has introduced many people to our front country trails and wilderness areas. Unfortunately, this may have contributed to an increase in littering and vandalism. Please accept the promise not to trash our wilderness, and tell your friends to do the same.
Diane ~ Santa Barbara Hikes.