An excellent loop which involves a small amount of uphill but provides you with incredible views of the Hollister Ranch. The mile long ridgeline provides wonderful scenery and a very relaxing series of knolls to hike along. It is possible to walk all the way to the beach. An old firebreak paralleling Highway 1 leads off towards Lompoc.
You will see warning signs noting this is mountain lion country. In the springtime especially you may encounter ticks.
Guidelines for Hiking in Lion Country
Don’t hike alone—try to hike with at least one other person or take your dog along for company.
Don’t let your children wander too far ahead of you—a lion may mistake your child for prey due to his or her size or the more animated way children often are.
Don’t run away—this may stimulate the lion to chase you. Stand still and face the lion, and don’t turn your back. Make eye contact and keep it until the standoff ends.
If you see a lion don’t approach it—give the lion as much space as you can. They will usually try to avoid a confrontation.
Crouching or bending over is to be avoided—humans standing up do not look like prey but crouched over in more of a four-legged position may make you look like dinner.
Stand tall—do everything you can to appear as large as you can. Raise your hands in the air and if you have a jacket raise it above you. Talk firmly and loudly.
Defend yourself if necessary—carry a walking stick or have a few stones in your pocket which you can throw if you need to. If attacked fight back.
If there is one hike which I would do in the springtime, this is it. The name is deceptive. You will be walking on an old fire road but it has been allowed to mellow until it is more a wide path than roadway. The grasses grow on it as do the flowers in the spring months and you find it to be more like having twin paths paralleling each other. I find being able to walk side by side and talk with your fellow travelers when you want to be very nice.
There are three choices you can make about how you want to reach the top of the main ridgeline and you will need to decide on one of them just a hundred yards beyond the locked gate.
On the right, the ridgeline trail takes you steeply up to the highest point in this area—the Hollister Ridge. Some may want to head this way because they prefer trails to roads and there are views out to the north you don’t get by taking the road, but you’ll also climb about 200 feet more and then lose it again once you are on the other side of the ridge.
On the left, a trail leads along the creek — the Ortega Trail — and parallels the freeway for three-fourths mile to a point where you are right below the radio tower . Beyond here the trail opens out to become a road, continues up across several meadows, and then up an oak-filled canyon to the Hollister ridge. By taking this route, essentially you are choosing to do the loop in a clockwise fashion.
My preferred route is to continue straight ahead on the fire road. The path rises gently at first up onto the hillside, bringing with it very nice views out across the countryside, which is primarily open grasslands and clusters of oak trees. There is a final long climb up one last hill before you reach the top. Then you are on the Hollister ridge looking out over thousands of acres of beautiful rolling hills and misty canyons.
You’ll spot the ridgeline trail almost immediately on your right, and across the road, several hundred yards to the north, an interesting set of rock formations which are worth exploring if you want to take the time. You can continue beyond the sandstone rocks as well. The road isn’t in as good condition as the fire road but it leads to another set of ridges which you can walk along for quite awhile.
The hike most people do leads south along the main ridge. The old road is almost entirely covered with grass and the ruts just enough to make a parallel set of paths for you to walk on. This is fabulous country. The crown of the ridge is comprised of open grass and magnificent old oak trees. Not surprisingly, you will find yourself lost in the views, of which there are hundreds, as you bob up and down on the hillsides.
It is a bit more than a half mile to a short but steep climb which brings you up onto an even higher part of the ridgeline. The views here are even better. The road then drops gradually to a saddle. On the left you will find a trail marker. This route leads down an intersecting ridge and makes the return trip a little bit shorter. However, use this trail with caution as it is not well defined and easy to lose. It is a beautiful connector trail., winding back and forth through some of the prettiest oak forests you will find in this area. But I can tell you from experience that it is easy to get lost. Perhaps in future years it will be better marked.
To do the full loop trail, stay on the ridge and follow the fire road. Just the trail marker the road climbs again and cuts across the right side of a hillside before droppng back down to a final saddle. Here, the fire road turns left drops down into a canyon, leading back to your starting point. Not too far along the route down into the canyon you will notice a side road leading back up to the right. This will take you out to the radio tower, or, if you are hiking all the way to the beach, you will find a trail along the way (Beach to Backcountry) that will take you there.