Indeed, you will be much more likely to see other hikers rather than rattlesnakes as this single-track trail snakes its way upcanyon. The shady pathway follows a delightful, year-round stream before coming to a wildflower meadow.
This outing through Rattlesnake Canyon offers a number of easy hiking possibilities. Several spur trails lead off the main trail to small waterfalls and secluded pools as you make your way upcanyon.
Hikers looking for more vigorous workout can take the Connector Trail from the meadow as it climbs through the chaparral; east to Gibraltar Road, where there is an outstanding vista of the Santa Barbara coast, or west to the Tunnel Trail.
Directions: To reach the trailhead for the Rattlesnake Canyon Trial, exit the 101 Freeway at Mission Street in Santa Barbara. Follow the signs to the Mission and from there, proceed north on Mission Canyon Road to Foothill Road and turn right. Make a quick left, once again onto Mission Canyon Road, and take it to Las Canoas Road and turn right. Take Las Canoas about 1 1/2 miles, look for a wide turnout near the second stone bridge and park your car along side the road.
Distance and level of difficulty: This hike on the multi-use Rattlesnake Canyon Trail makes a 3 1/2 mile round-trip from the roadside trailhead to the wildflower meadow and back again. This is a moderate family hike with a 900 foot gain/loss in elevation. Hiking up to Gibraltar Road makes this a strenuous hike adding another 2 miles to the hike as well as another 1,000 foot gain in elevation.
What you'll need: Be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes for this hike. Bring sunscreen, a hat or visor and at least one quart of water per hiker. There are no facilities along the trail or at the trailhead. Dogs on leashes are welcome on this trail.
Special note: This multi-use trail is closed temporarily to cyclists and equestrians due to storm damage.
Step by step:
1. The signed Rattlesnake Trail begins right at the side of the road at either end of the stone bridge. The easterly path avoids the first stream crossing and the two trails meet just a few hundred yards upstream where the trail heads steadily uphill through a planted area of rock-roses. Stay to the left at the junction with the old fire road as the main trail follows the course of the stream upcanyon. About a half mile up the trail there is another trails junction, this time proceed straight ahead as the main path continues to follow the creek.
2. A little farther upstream there is another stream crossing and the canyon once more narrows in over the creekbed. The trail switchbacks up from the creek through the open chaparral to a grove of planted pine trees that is about 2/3 mile from the trailhead. After a bit the trail leads back under the tree canopy to cross the creek once more before climbing out of the forest to the grassy meadow. At the end of the meadow, near a large live-oak tree, is the junction with the Connector Trail. This is a good turn around point for an easy hike or rest stop for hikers continuing on the trail in either direction.
3. On the return trip, it is possible to make this a loop hike by hiking back down the canyon's east side. Look for the trail to start in the forest below the last stream crossing. This path is much less traveled than the main trail but is in good hiking condition. The east canyon loop trail rejoins the main trail below the second stream crossing, about 1/2 mile from the roadside trailhead.
What you'll see: The first part of the hike is under an exquisite mixed canopy of alder, bay, sycamore and oak trees. The stream crossings, rock pools and waterfalls make this canyon hike an exciting outdoor family adventure. As you make your way uphill, through the chaparral be sure to look back toward the ocean as there are stunning views of the Channel Islands. On a recent weekend, hang gliders over the canyon looked like huge, prehistoric birds of prey as they made their way toward the coast.