San Rafael Wilderness
Elevation: Google Earth says the elevation is 5,790'.
Distance: It is 1.95 miles to the top of San Rafael Mountain and 3.6 miles to McKinly Saddle; it is 3.85 miles to Misison Pine Basin.
Mission Pine Springs is absolutely my favorite camp, bar none. There is no more dramatic hike in the backcountry than the walk from the top of San Rafael Mountain down to Mission Pine Springs. From San Rafael you can spot snow on the southern Sierras to the northeast on a clear winter day and turning around, to the south the views over the Santa Ynez Mountains to the islands is equally spectacular.
But the walk from the barren top of San Rafael a few hundred yards into the Jeffery and Ponderosa is is like going from night into day. Almost without warning you find yourself hiking through a bed of thick pine needles and in the shadows of the big trees. Then come the rock formations, beautfully sculpted sandstone outcroppings, many of them the size of half a football field, interspersed throughout the firs and pines and it is just amazing. This may be the best two miles of hiking anywhere in Santa Barbara County, perhaps followed only by the walk from the Springs Camp to the Basin.
Perhaps even better, once you get to know the area you realize that you don't actually need to follow the trail down to the camp; the country is open enough that you can meander out to the north through the trees and here and there between the manzanita and the sandstone formations and work your way down through some amazing country to the Springs.
Like the Basin, this area was also seriously damaged by the Zaca Fire in 2007 but many of the trees survived, enough that the character of the Mission Pines has not been lost and over time they will recov
Jim Blakley Notes
The story is told that Mission Fathers camped at the spring when they obtained long timbers in the area which were carried down Peach Tree Canyon, across the Santa Ynez Valley and over the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Mission. Later, Hiram Wells and Ed Forrester cut shakes above the spring to roof their homestead building on the Sisquoc River. Burros packed the shakes down the northwest side of the mountain. A pile of left over shakes is said to have burned in the Sweetwater Fire.
Wild orchids and strawberries grow at the side of the small stream from the spring. The camp is divided intoparts. Just rock fire rings remain at the sites. Water is from the spring.
Bob Burtness Notes
Administration: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara District
Access: About 25 miles beyond Upper Oso Camp via the Santa Cruz Trail (27WO9) and the Mission Pine Trail (28WOI). Another route starts at Cachuma Saddle (Cachuma Saddle Station) and proceeds up the steep Mission Pine Trail for about 12 miles.
U.S. Forest Service map coordinates: J-17 Topographical map: San Rafael Mountain Elevation: 5,840 feet (1,785 meters)
Terrain: mountain valley
Vegetation: pines, manzanita, Incense cedar, Black oak Tables: 2
Water. spring (reliable) Firewood: yes
Special Features: Blessed with conifers and excellent water, this camp, divided into 2 adjacent units, is just over a mile from San Rafael Peak (ele. 6,593), the second highest point in Santa Barbara County. (ele. 6,680) is the highest. The camp is also not far above the headwaters of the west fork of Santa Cruz Creek.
Historical Highlights: An old story relates that Sugar and Jeffrey pines were hauled down Peachtree Canyon for construction of the Santa Barbara Mission in 1786 and the Santa Ynez Mission, founded in 1804. Another story tells about Hiram Wells and Ed Forrester, homesteaders on the Sisquoc, who came to cut shakes. Burros packed them down the mountain but many were burned in the Sweetwater Fire. Stumps can be seen just west of camp.