(Paraphrased from “Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara” by Robert Stone, Day Hike Books Inc, 2010)
Distance: 11.1mi to Sisquoc River Trail intersection (from there out and back to your desired length of the Sisquoc River Trail—if you follow recommendations below, length to Mormon Camp and back is approximately 16 miles).
Time: 8-16 hours (or best if an overnight multiday trip, extending as far as 28.5 miles for the entire Sisquoc River Trail)
Elevation Gain/Loss: 250 ft for Manzana section, rated as “Moderate” for remaining section of Sisquoc Trail, though maintenance is limited, and due to the remote access to the trail, much of the trail is likely overgrown and/or difficult to follow, though it does parallel the river for the entire route.
Best Map to Use: USGS and USFS Map San Rafael Wilderness
Features: Manzana Creek is a proposed Wild & Scenic River addition in the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (HR 1865 and S. 1423) as well as a beautiful section of the proposed Condor Trail National Recreation Trail. Manzana Creek is a major tributary of the Sisquoc River, draining westward through the San Rafael Wilderness, one of the first wilderness areas in California formally designated in 1966.
The Lower Manzana Creek trail follows the creek for 8.5 miles along the SW corner of the wilderness, from Davy Brown Canyon to the Sisquoc River by the historic Manzana Schoolhouse. The trail passes through both Coldwater Camp and Potrero Camp, two beautiful creekside camps in a lush riparian corridor. There are numerous creek crossings and beautiful views of the canyon.
For a longer hike, the trail continues along the creek to the old schoolhouse at the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. The one room wooden structure was built by religious fundamentalists from Kansas in 1893 and was abandoned in 1902 after a prolonged drought.
Hiking Directions: From the trailhead, walk back over the road/creek crossing and enter the San Rafael Wilderness (big sign at the trailhead as well as a register box). Traverse the hillside northwest till you eventually take three switch backs down to Potrero Camp under the oaks and on the bank of the Manzana Creek about 1.3 miles in. Wade the creek and walk roughly 60 yards to a signed junction at the Potrero Canyon Trail. Continue straight staying on the lower Manzana Trail among digger pines, sycamores and oaks. You’ll cross the creek four more times. After the fourth crossing, you’ll pass through an open meadow with some oak trees. Head up the northern slope, and then you’ll drop back down into coldwater camp on the banks of the creek about 2.8 miles in.
To extend the hike, the trail continues down 3.5 miles to the Sulphur Spring Trail and 5.5 Miles to the Sisquoc River and the Manzana Schoolhouse. At the junction of the Manzana Schoolhouse, follow the Sisquoc River trail east (turning right at the intersection), and continue past the intersection of the Hurricane Deck Trail. Manzana Schoolhouse is a good stopping point for a first night of camping (assuming you are willing to hike in 11.1 miles in one day). For day two, it’s a 3.9 mile hike along the Sisquoc to the Water Canyon Campground, or you can press along another 2.1 miles to Mormon Camp. The shorter second day allows for a several good spots to relax and enjoy the Sisquoc River’s swimming holes (seasonally) and other beautiful views. The trail is recommended as an out & back returning to the Trailhead at Nira (where you parked).
Driving Directions (From Santa Barbara): Take Hwy 101 to Hwy 154 (San Marcos Pass) and drive Hwy 154 approximately twenty two miles to Armour Ranch Road (Armour Ranch Rd is 4.6 miles past the entrance to lake Cachuma). Turn right right and continue 1.3 miles to Happy Canyon rd. Turn right there, and drive approximately 14 miles to the Cachuma Saddle road junction. Continue straight through the junction to wind down 5 miles to the trailhead on the left (about 1.5 miles past Davy Brown Campground). Cross the creek and park at the trailhead on your left.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.