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See the Retired Peak Guides in the Archives for Microsoft Word and other versions of this peak guide.


Santa Cruz Peak


Location: Santa Barbara County, about 18 miles north of Goleta, 135 miles from Los Angeles


Auto ClubSanta Barbara County
Forest ServiceLos Padres National Forest: Mt Pinos, Ojai and Santa Barbara Ranger Districts
USGS ToposSan Rafael Mtn 7½, Figueroa Mtn 7½
Official HPS Maps TPO file - Save to your computer then open with National Geographic TOPO!
 Viewable JPG file - Approximately 420K
 GPX file or Google Earth KML file to download to GPS units and other map software (How to use GPX and KML files)
 Routes as shown on CalTopo using the above files (How to use CalTopo)

Nearby Peaks: McKinley Mountain, San Rafael Mountain

Printable version of this route


(USFS Adventure Pass may be required)
Distance: 27 miles round trip on dirt road and cross-country
Gain: 7100' total, 4800' out plus 2300' on return
Time: 16-18 hours round trip
Rating: Class 2 near summit, very strenuous
Navigation: Difficult
Leader Rating: "I", normal conditions
Route: Dense brush near summit

Original: Howland Bailey, February 1968


  • Take US 101 to just west of Santa Barbara. Turn north on SR 154.
  • Continue north and then west about 22 miles past Lake Cachuma, to Armour Ranch Road on the right. Turn right, note your odometer and go as follows:
  • At 1.3 miles, fork with Happy Canyon Road (paved) on the right. Turn right.
  • At 12.9 miles Cachuma Campground.
  • At 15.3 miles Cachuma Saddle and a ranger station on the left. Park in the large parking lot south of the ranger station.

If Happy Canyon Road is closed, proceed 7.2 miles beyond the Armour Ranch Road on SR 154 to the town of Los Olivos and a junction with Figueroa Mtn Road (paved). Turn right (north) for 19 miles to Cachuma Saddle, adding 11 miles to the standard driving route. Call USFS at (805) 967-3481 for road conditions.


  • From the parking area (3100'), cross the highway and take a short left (north) to the gate marking the beginning of 8N08. Pass the gate and twist easterly up the dirt road for 7 1/2 miles to a good camping spot and water source at 5600', easily visible down the slope on the left about 100 yards past a pair of roadside water tanks. (The tanks mark McKinley Spring, named Cold Spring on the USGS topo map.)
  • Hike 1/2 mile farther east on 8N08 to McKinley Saddle (5800'-) between McKinley Mountain and San Rafael Mountain, the turnoffs for side trips to these two peaks.
  • To continue straight for Santa Cruz Peak, locate the unmaintained jeep road on the east side of this broad saddle, just south of a sign that marks the boundary of the San Rafael Wilderness and the beginning of Mission Pine Trail 21W08.
  • Turn south on this poor road (in places little more than a track and occasionally washed out) which drops 600' as it gradually contours around the southwest side of San Rafael Mountain and then up to the main north-south ridge (5800'+), some 1 1/2 miles from McKinley Saddle.
  • Take the right (south) road fork at the main ridge. Proceed south over a number of bumps. The track eventually takes aim at bump 5484' and becomes obliterated in spots by excess brush. Persevere through this zone, gaining 200' to the foot of the steep northern slope of bump 5484', where the road becomes more obvious as it contours left around the bump.
  • Leave the road here on a use trail that contours around the right (west) side of bump 5484' to the saddle on the east flank of Santa Cruz Peak.
  • From this saddle, continue up hill for about 15 meters. You will see a ridge on your left (south) and trees. There is a use trail that goes up through the trees following the ridge on its north side for about 100 meters.
  • The use trail then turns to your right and traverses the slope until you reach some rocks.
  • Follow the rocks back up to the ridge and follow the ridge over one false summit to Santa Cruz.


Year-round water is usually available from the large pipe-fed container at the camp (avoid using water from the horse trough) but should be treated because the water is obtained from storage. Bears frequent the area, so bear-proofing food and other perishables is also advisable.


McKinley Mountain, Santa Cruz Peak, and San Rafael Mountain are together known as "The Big Three". They are normally done as a two-day backpack, camping overnight at McKinley Spring.


8N08 is well graded and maintained as far as McKinley Saddle. These 8 road miles are suitable for mountain biking.


Round trip excursions from McKinley Saddle:

  • Santa Cruz Peak is 11 miles, 1800' gain, plus 2000' gain on the return (7-9 hours).
  • McKinley Mountain is 1 mile, 400' gain (1 hour).
  • San Rafael Mountain is 5 miles, 1100' gain (2 hours).
  • Add 1 mile, 200' gain if the trip begins from camp. Round trip for the Big Three as a day hike is 33 miles, 8600' gain. Camping is recommended.


This area experienced a major fire in 1994. The natural recovery process has led to very dense stands of brush in the vicinity of Santa Cruz Peak, a condition far different from the relatively open slopes that used to be found here.

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