This challenging hike will deliver stunning views of the Santa Barbara front country, downtown Santa Barbara, and the Channel Islands. Climbing the Dragons Back up to Arlington Peak is a rewarding scramble along an exposed boulder field ridgeline. The route is littered with options from slab climbing to short cave traversing and even a strange little unexpected forest. Be warned, however, this is not a loop for the faint of heart. Summiting the three peaks along the Cathedral Peak Trail
(Arlington Peak, Cathedral Peak, and La Cumbre Peak) is both athletically challenging as well as navigationally challenging.
Getting there: This loop begins at the Inspiration/!Seven Falls Trailhead. This trailhead can be crowded and parking is difficult.
Directions: The first 0.7 miles of Tunnel Trail South
is an old, unused paved road. At the top of that paved road, the surface turns to a rocky access road and there is a Y. Take the left road. In ~100 yards there will be a trail on the right. Don't take it. That's Tunnel Trail and will be the return arm of the loop you're on.
It's best if you do the loop in the clockwise direction as climbing Arlington will be both more fun and less dangerous than going down it at the end of a long hike. Take the trail that's another 100 yards or so up the road on the left. Nearly everyone on this trail will be heading to Inspiration Point.
After ~0.1 miles on this trail, you'll come to a creek bed. Go across the creek BUT instead of heading left out of the creek bed along the well-traveled trail to Inspiration Point, head right along the edge of the creek bed. In ~100 feet Cathedral Peak Trail
will head steeply up a rock slope to your left.
Follow this trail up the Dragons Back ridgeline to Arlington Peak and continue along the deliciously sharp ridgeline to Cathedral Peak. From Cathedral Peak, there are three options for trails down the steep slope to the saddle pass before your final push up La Cumbre Peak. Take the middle of the three options. This is not obvious and you may want to use the Hiking Project mobile app
to help find your way. The first of the three options is right at the base of Cathedral Peak and is dangerously too steep. I came very close to hurting myself on that option. Also, once down the steep cliff wall the trail seems to disappear which led to an hour of crawling on my belly trying to get through the thick miniature forest. GO PAST Cathedral Peak along the rocky ridge for 50 yards or so and another option down to the saddle will appear. This is the one you want.
At that point you have a fun and fast downhill hike through the strange little forest to the saddle where you begin climbing in earnest again. Once to the top of La Cumbre Peak you must hike along a paved road called Cameno Cielo for ~1 mile. It's paved but sees little car use and is quite gorgeous. At 1 mile, turn right into an ATV track area. At the back of the track, you'll find the trailhead for Tunnel Trail South
. Follow this all the way down and meet up with your path from earlier.