Tangerine Falls

Distance: 3 miles round-trip

Time: 2 hours

Highlights:  This a beautiful trail leads up Cold Spring Canyon past sandstone formations, pools and cascades and includes the off-trail scramble up the middle fork of the creek to 200-foot Tangerine Falls.

Similarities/Differences:  This waterfall is ten times higher than the one at Rancho Alegre.  The hike has a similar amount of rock-hopping, and there are also some steep sections that are not for the faint of heart.

Directions:  There are two (well, actually 3) starting points for Cold Spring Trail.  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.  Be 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.

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.  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.  To the left is the main West Fork Trail, which summits at Gibraltar Road.

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.  To return home, reverse your route.

Elevation Gain:  900 feet

Difficulty:  Moderate, with some difficult rock scrambling towards the end of the hike

Trailhead: From Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to the Olive Mill Road Exit.  Turn left.  The road becomes Hot Springs Road at some point without turning.  At East Mountain Drive, turn left.  Drive about a mile and a half and park just before, or just after the stream crossing on the road.  The trailhead begins on either side of the stream, but is best started before the stream crossing at the Montecito Trails Association sign.

Credit: Original hike description found at


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