The lower part of Mono Trail is part of the historic route from Santa Barbara to the Cuyama Valley. The section from Mono Camp to the river is 1.5 miles in length and is one of the most scenic hikes in the backcountry. The lower canyon is filled with cottonwood trees and they form a canopy for your hike to the river. You can continue another mile upstream to catch the lower end of the Cold Springs Trail.
In 2007 the Zaca Fire burned through almost all of the upper Indian and Mono Creek watersheds and rainfall the winter after caused the creek channels to shift and loads of sand to be deposited on the section of Mono Creek from the Debris Dam to the Santa Ynez River. Subsequent trail maintenance projects have improved lower Mono Trail and use is continuing to compact it over the years.
This is a trail that I wish would go on forever and forever. The canyon through which it passes is filled with cottonwood trees and thick stands of willows, the canopy completely covering the trail and providing the feeling that you are walking through a tunnel of greenery. It is the home of a tiny bird known as the Least Bell’s Vireo, a migratory bird that is on the Endangered Species List. There are roughly only 300 known pairs of them left and approximately 50-60 of these pairs make this area their spring and summer home.
What the Least Bell’s Vireo has meant to the city of Santa Barbara is a complete stop to any attempt to raise the level of Gibraltar Dam. What this means to hikers is that you should stay on trail so as not to disturb any nest sites.
Mono Trail begins at the lower end of Mono Camp. Though it isn’t that easy to spot, you shouldn’t have too much trouble locating it. Look for a path that takes off through the brush. A hundred yards after you pass through a long grass meadow the canopy closes in overhead, and from here on the trail curves back and forth through the cottonwood forest for a half mile, finally straightening out somewhat for the last mile which is along the left side of the canyon.
Near the mouth of the canyon the trail rises slightly and then turns sharply left and into the Santa Ynez River drainage. Mono Trail continues for a mile along the left side of the river and ends near the bottom of the Cold Springs Trail. A short hike up this will bring you to the Gibraltar Trail. Adventuresome hikers will follow this until directly opposite Mono Creek, then drop down to the river and cross back over it to the Mono Trail.