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TOURIST ATTRACTION

Figueroa Mountain
updated: Aug 20, 2011, 8:45 AM

By the dedicated staff, photos courtesy William Etling

Wildflowers, snow season and summer campouts are the seasonal high notes for Figueroa Mountain, a wilderness paradise accessible from the Santa Ynez Valley.

Trails, horseback riding, off road vehicle use, mountain biking, fishing, camping and backpacking, seasonal hunting, shooting and photography are all popular recreational uses on the mountain. Be prepared to bring your own water and firewood and have an appropriate vehicle for a dirt/gravel road if you plan to travel past the front side. All roads past the base of Figueroa Mountain Road are narrow, frequently steep with little shoulder room, and require cautious driving.

Figueroa is part of the Los Padres National Forest, and if you plan to park and hike or camp, you should be carrying a U.S. Forest Service Adventure Pass in your vehicle. The passes are available at the Forest Service office in Goleta, and can be purchased for the day or for a year.

There is also an overnight camping fee for use of the campgrounds. Here are directions for how to get there and some highlights for visitors.

How to get there: From Santa Barbara, travel to Los Olivos via Hwy. 154 or take Hwy. 101 to Hwy. 154. (Approximately 45 min to 1 hour drive time).

Turn left or right, depending on your route, onto Figueroa Mountain Road, which crosses Hwy. 154, and becomes Grand Avenue in Los Olivos. Follow Figueroa Mountain Road past the Chamberlin Ranch, Neverland Ranch, and Midland School.

At the base of the mountain, you will pass a wide dirt turnout and go around a sharp right turn and over a cattle guard. The ascent up the mountain road begins immediately. It is about 10 miles to the top of the mountain, at which point you can continue to the campgrounds (right fork) or fire tower (left fork, dirt road, sometimes closed) or turn around.

The loop drive: If you want to continue your trip in the car on the famous loop drive that will take you all the way back to the Santa Ynez Valley via Happy Canyon, continue past the Figueroa Mountain Campground and ascend to Ranger Peak. After this last climb, you'll make a precipitous descent, but be treated to fabulous views of the backcountry, Cachuma Lake, and the surrounding mountains, like McKinley Peak. You'll want to make a right turn when you get to the Sunset Valley Road Junction to get back to the SYV via Happy Canyon. If you turn left, you'll head up to the Nira and Davy Brown campgrounds and trailheads. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the drive, and a great place to spot bears, deer and other animals.

Campgrounds: The main Figueroa Mountain campground, closest to Los Olivos, is a traditional forest camp with no water, pit toilets, and Manzanita groves surrounding the campsites. It often gets cold and windy at night, so pack accordingly. You can almost always find a site up here, no matter what day of the week or holiday weekend it might be. Water has been turned off in the campground for several years, so be sure to bring your own with you. There are picnic tables and BBQs, but fires are often prohibited in the summer months due to fire danger, so check before you go. This campground is best for tent/car camping, with a few sites that can accommodate a small RV. Best things to do in the area are to hike the Davy Brown trail (see next paragraph) or go up to the fire lookout. Not far from the campground are a few small forest cabins, used seasonally by private owners (see photos).

The Davy Brown and Nira backpacker's camps are further into the wilderness, smaller, and more likely to be filled up if you're trying to get a spot on a weekend. (Everything on the mountain is first come, first served.) Davy Brown is an especially sweet spot, with about 10 campsites tucked in along a pretty creek. During hunting season however, expect loud music and hunters partying late into the night. Nira is the end of the line, as far as the road goes, but backpackers and horse-packers often head out from here to go on extended trips into the wilderness. Both of these camps are highly recommended, especially if you are really looking to get away from it all and can take a weekday trip.

Hiking and Biking: The best route for easy mountain biking on Figueroa Mountain is the Catway, which starts from a spur close to the Figueroa Mountain Road Y split and goes all the way to Zaca Peak. This is a maintained fire road, so it's easy to ride without too many rocks. The best hike on the mountain is the Davy Brown trail, which jumps off down the hill about a half mile left of the Figueroa Mountain Campground. A parking area and a rusty old metal sign mark the trailhead. This trail traverses a narrow canyon, crossing several times over a beautiful stream that is dry in the summer months, and ends at the Davy Brown campground. Downhill all the way until you have to turn around and come back. If you are in good shape, this hike is a must.

The fire lookout: A fire lookout, at the tip top of Figueroa Peak, is a great spot to get a view of all of the Los Padres backcountry without making the full loop drive. You'll also be able to see all of the Santa Ynez Valley below you. To get to the lookout, you'll go left at the mountaintop fork in the road (if the road is open). There is a picnic spot/former campground just below the fire lookout road, which is a good place to park. Walking up to the lookout is a short quarter mile hike from the picnic area. You can't access the lookout itself, but it's the sort of spot a heroic but lonely seasonal fire spotter would have manned for long summer months before budget cuts did away with such services.

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A control burn on Figueroa Mountain was sending up a large smoke plume on Tuesday afternoon, visible from Hwy 154 and the SYV. [pics] (11/17/10)
2884 13
A subscriber had fun Saturday in the snow on top of Figueroa Mountain Rd. in Santa Ynez. [pics] (02/28/11)
3401 1
Denny Lincoln sent in some pictures of the wildflowers and other adventures to be found on Figueroa Mountain. [pics] (04/01/11)
3651 12
I took my buddy Luke and headed to the Santa Ynez Valley today. The Road to Figueroa Mountain is paved with many beautiful things. [pics] (04/07/11)
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After taking a bike ride to the top of Figueroa Mountain, Dominique realized that sometimes it's the things you do that let you know when a new season has arrived. (04/17/11)
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Jamie Rosenberg submitted a beautiful HDR photo he took up on Figueroa Mountain Rd. We had to reduce it in size, but it still is awesome. [pic] (04/18/11)
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I went for a drive up to Figueroa Mountain yesterday, and saw this fox. He was playing and not very worried about me passing by his perch. [pic] (05/23/11)
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