This report highlights ten trails across the Los Padres National Forest where historic public access has been restricted. Over time, as the forest’s neighboring land ownership changes, trailheads have been blocked off by gates and signs, restricting the public’s access to their public lands and funneling an increasing number of forest users onto a dwindling trail system. ForestWatch’s report shares some success stories of trail access restored, some stories of cautious hope as community groups work to save the trails they love, and some stories of tenuous situations where access and trails are on the brink of being lost forever.
- Middle Fork Matilija Trail, Ojai: A coalition of concerned citizens is working with the Forest Service to preserve access to Matilija Falls that has been enjoyed by the public for more than 80 years.
- Santa Paula Peak Trail, Santa Paula: A gate mere yards off of Highway 126 now restricts access to the Santa Paula Peak trailhead, shutting out the public from this scenic nine mile hike to the summit.
- Agua Blanca and Pothole Trails, Piru: United Water Conservation District, managers of the Lake Piru Recreation Area, have closed the road to these trail’s trailheads and charge an access fee of $10-$13 per day for forest users to park their cars in lots four miles from the trails.
- Hot Springs Trail, Montecito: A success story of preserved access—the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County campaigned to purchase land surrounding the Hot Springs Trail and will now hand over ownership to the U.S. Forest Service for public enjoyment in perpetuity.
- Franklin Trail, Carpinteria: A success story of restored access—through collaboration between community groups, the County of Santa Barbara, private landowners, and the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, the historic Franklin Trail is being restored from Carpinteria High School into the Los Padres National Forest backcountry.
- Rocky Ridge and Bull Ridge Trails, Cuyama Valley: These trails, visible on Forest Service maps as far back as the 1930s and currently today, access the beautiful Painted Rock cultural site bordering the San Rafael Wilderness. Access has been lost due to a locked gate on Perkins Road off Highway 166.
- Alamo Creek and Beartrap Trails, Lockwood Valley: These trails, visible on Forest Service maps from the 1930s and 40s as well as described in old hiking guides, have been lost due to restricted access at their trailheads. Chaparral has returned these trails to wildlands, and public access to the Sespe Wilderness has been diminished.
- Stony Creek Trail, Arroyo Grande: This trail, and the Stony Creek and Agua Escondido Campgrounds, have been lost as a private landowner gated access on Huasna Road out of Arroyo Grande. Included in a published collection of scenic byways in 2004, Huasna Road is no longer even passable.
- DeAngulo Trail, Big Sur: A success story of preserved access—an eccentric character of Big Sur in the 1950s who willed his property for public use as long as it was maintained—volunteers have been caring for the trail ever since.
- Little Sur Trail, Big Sur: A tenuous situation where users of a historic trail are encountering threatening signs and access rules imposed by private landowners with property adjacent to the national forest.
“These trails are part of our heritage, and access to the national forest is a right,” stated ForestWatch Conservation Coordinator, Suzanne Feldman. “This report only touches on the problem of compounding loss of access to public lands; there are plenty of more trails we could be talking about and plenty of ways for the public to get involved.”