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Santa Cruz Peak


Santa Barbara County, about 18 miles north of Goleta, 135 miles from Los Angeles


Auto Club: Santa Barbara County
Forest Service: Los Padres National Forest
Topo: San Rafael Mtn 7½, Figueroa Mtn 7½

Nearby Peaks: McKinley Mountain, San Rafael Mountain

Adventure Pass Required

Distance: 27 miles round trip on dirt road and cross-country
Gain: 4,800' plus 2,300'on the return
Time: 16-18 hours r.t.
Rating: Class 1; Extremely Strenuous
Navigation: Difficult

Original: Howland Bailey - Feb 1968


  • Take US 101 to just west of Santa Barbara. Turn north on SR 154.
  • Continue north and then west about 22 miles past Lake Cachuma, to Armour Ranch Road on the right. Turn right, note your odometer and go as follows:
  • At 1.3 miles, fork with Happy Canyon Road (paved) on the right. Turn right.
  • At 12.9 miles Cachuma campground.
  • At 15.3 miles Cachuma Saddle and a ranger station on the left. Park in the large parking lot south of the ranger station.

If Happy Canyon Road is closed, proceed 7.2 miles beyond the Armour Ranch Road on SR 154 to the town of Los Olivos and a junction with Figueroa Mtn Road (paved). Turn right (north) for 19 miles to Cachuma Saddle, adding 11 miles to the standard driving route. Call USFS at (805) 967-3481 for road conditions.


From the parking area (3100'), cross the highway and take a short left (north) to the gate marking the beginning of FR 8N08. Pass the gate and twist easterly up the dirt road for 7½ miles to a good camping spot and water source at 5600 feet, easily visible down slope on the left about 100 yards past a pair of roadside water tanks. (The tanks mark McKinley Spring, named Cold Spring on the USGS topo map.) Hike 1½ mile farther east on FR 8N08 to McKinley Saddle (5800'-) between McKinley Mountain and San Rafael Mountain, the take-off point for side trips to these two peaks. To continue straight for Santa Cruz Peak, locate the unmaintained jeep road on the east side of this broad saddle, just south of a sign that marks the boundary of the San Rafael Wilderness and the beginning of Mission Pine Trail 21W08. Turn south on this poor road (in places little more than a track and occasionally washed out) which drops 600' as it gradually contours around the southwest side of San Rafael Mountain and then up to the main north-south ridge (5800'+), some 1½ miles from McKinley Saddle. Take the right (south) road fork at the main ridge. Proceed south over a number of bumps. The track eventually takes aim at bump 5484' and becomes obliterated in spots by excess brush. Persevere through this zone, gaining 200' to the foot of the steep northern slope of bump 5484', where the road becomes more obvious as it contours left around the bump. Follow the poor road until it meets the ridge line east of bump 5484', at a point where the road ahead drops steeply for several hundred feet. Make an up-ridge right turn here, following a second poor road to the top of bump 5484'. Immediately beyond this local summit, drop north down to yet another overgrown road. Follow this road southwest to the large saddle marking the east flank of Santa Cruz Peak. The "road" followed to this saddle continues west around the north slopes of Santa Cruz. It must be found and followed, but it does not meet the ridgeline straight ahead. In that direction lies impenetrable brush. To find the "road" veer slightly to the right immediately upon reaching the saddle low point, continue slowly uphill, and scrutinize right-hand brush lanes for any trace of a roadbed. Follow the "road" on its gradual climb around to the west side of Santa Cruz Peak. If a level or ascending roadbed is visible ahead, no matter how brushy, it is not yet time to head uphill. A gigantic brush tangle without a hint of a roadbed is the turning point. Exit the roadbed onto the steep, brushy slopes to the left and then proceed uphill to the high point, which is the southwestern of the two summit rock piles.


McKinley Mountain, Santa Cruz Peak, & San Rafael Mountain are together known as "The Big Three". They are normally done as a two-day backpack, camping overnight at McKinley Spring.


Year-round water is usually available from the large pipe-fed container at the camp (avoid using water from the horse trough) but should be treated because the water is obtained from storage. Bears frequent the area, so bear-proofing food and other perishables is also advisable.


FR 8N08 is well graded and maintained as far as McKinley Saddle. These 8 road miles are suitable for mountain biking.


Round trip excursions from McKinley Saddle: Santa Cruz Peak is 11 miles, 1800' gain, plus 2000' gain on the return (7-9 hours). McKinley Mountain is 1 mile, 400' gain (1 hour). San Rafael Mountain is 5 miles, 1100' gain (2 hours). Add 1 mile, 200' gain if the trip begins from camp. Round trip for the Big Three as a day hike is 33 miles, 8600' gain. Camping is recommended.


This area experienced a major fire in 1994. The natural recovery process has led to very dense stands of brush in the vicinity of Santa Cruz Peak, a condition far different from the relatively open slopes that used to be found here.

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Hundred Peaks Section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club
Published 8-Mar-2001
© 2001 - All Rights Reserved

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