Lower Sisquoc Loop


Oct 2, 2014
The weather forecast, a rare thing in southern California, ended our trip plans to drive, camp & work the trail on a 6000' ridge above Santa Barbara. I'd been itching for this trip and had to fight to get Friday off work, my wife made plans to party like a rock star while I was gone, so I had to go somewhere. I decided on a remote loop in the lower elevations behind the ridge I'd been planning to visit. It didn't look to me like the weather was going to be that bad, and I started down the trail under a bluebird sky, enjoying the early spring.

This is a loop in the San Rafael Wilderness (not this San Rafael Swell I keep hearing about), which is close to where I live and my go-to wild land for weekend getaways. This trail starts on Manzana Creek and is well-used for about 8 miles both upstream and downstream. But past the 8-mile boy scout zone in both directions is where the good stuff is. This loop starts downstream, meets the Sisquoc River and follows it up into the mountains, then crosses a gentle ridge to find Manzana Creek again upstream from where I started.

I hiked 17 miles the first day and had great weather. I stayed at an old camp in the heart of the wilderness. The next day I followed 12 miles of rough and faint trail to an old ranger cabin that is maintained by volunteers. I had it to myself and spent the night inside out of the rain. Then 15 miles back to the car the next day with several hours of rain.

I do lots of volunteer trail maintenance trips here so I have to take pictures of all the deadfall and share them with the other volunteers. Here is a link to my photo album.


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I envy that you live so close to such a beautiful wilderness area. That's great that you volunteer doing trail maintainance. If I'm still living in this area when I retire I'd like to volunteer for the NY/NJ Trail Conference which maintains and maps all of my local trails. I've been the beneficiary of all of their work since I started hiking and owe them big time.
My first solo trip in this wilderness involved crawling on my hands & knees following bear tracks to stay on the trail. I started asking locals about what tools to use to clear paths through the brush, and was directed to the volunteer organization. It's given me lots of opportunities to hike with great people and see great places.
So @toejam, I was looking at your trail maintainance photo album that you gave the link for... Why would a bear chew a table? Is. It because food was spilled on it maybe?
So @toejam, I was looking at your trail maintainance photo album that you gave the link for... Why would a bear chew a table? Is. It because food was spilled on it maybe?
I guess the same reason that horses chew their stalls - looking for something yummy. I've seen that at several campsites in that wilderness. Good bears though - always run away when they see you.
I am planning to do this loop In a few weeks taking my time to do some exploring along the way. Where was their good water and do you have any suggestions for the best camps along the route or any other suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.
I am planning to do this loop In a few weeks taking my time to do some exploring along the way. Where was their good water and do you have any suggestions for the best camps along the route or any other suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.
Most of the route has lots of water. Notably missing water is Manzana Schoolhouse, although the water is getting closer when I camped there last weekend on a trail project. The campground at the Schoolhouse is great and worth packing water into, but can get crowded. If you are starting down Manzana Creek and doing the loop clockwise, there will be two creek crossings past Dabney Cabin that have water. Going up the Sisquoc from the Schoolhouse, you won't have water until the crossing just below Water Canyon Camp. The rest of the route has lots water. The Sisquoc has beavers, so treat it.

My favorite camp on the lower Sisquoc is Lorna - it's not on the map but it's between Water Canyon & Mormon. I hiked past so I could spend an extra hour at South Fork the next night. Cliff is a nice camp that has water, which it rarely does. Sycamore is a horse camp with a table & crapper. South Fork Station is on the trail heading up the upper Sisquoc, about 1/4 mile past the intersection for the trail back to Manzana Creek. South Fork Station cabin is a rare gem lovingly preserved by volunteers. Treat it gently - when it's gone it won't be rebuilt. I won't stay inside unless it's raining, and then it's really appreciated. Headed back to NIRA, Lonnie Davis & White Ledge are great camps. Over the ridge there is a camp near the dry Alcove waterfall that we call Alcove camp. There is water 1/2 mile before you get there.

I won't camp at Manzana Narrows unless the trail crew insists. It's always full of idiots and picked clean of firewood. Fish Camp is worse.

I hope you have Bryan Conant's map (http://www.bryanconant.com/sanrafael2009.html). If not, I guess you should wait for the new one to come out. The Lower Sisquoc Trail between Manzana Schoolhouse & Sycamore is faint. Social trails near the river are easier to follow in places than the old trail, which often climbs out of the river bottom. But either way, you shouldn't get lost. Just follow the river and be prepared to push through brush at every crossing. The area is beautiful and historic, and it's great if you have time to explore.
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