A must hike for power hikers. The dirt road is open and fairly easily traversed by most hikers. The route continues around the upper end of the east fork of Mission Canyon, bringing you high up on the mountain within a relatively short distance. There are excellent views out over Rattlesnake Canyon and the Montecito coastline. An off-trail route continues across a high ridgeline to Tunnel Trail, making a loop possible. Mountain bikers make use of the road quite frequently as a conditioning ride.
After the Jesusita Fire, to satisfy concerns residents in Mission Canyon had regarding safe access out of the area during periods of high fire danger, Santa Barbara County designated the upper canyon area as a “no parking zone” on Red Flag Days. Cars parked there will be ticketed or towed on those days.
On the off-trail section of the hike, you'll thank yourself if you've worn long pants and brought along a pair of gloves to negotiate yourself through the brush.
Hiking the Catway Road
The first time I was asked if I wanted to hike up to the power lines I thought my friend was crazy. After all, he knew I’d rather be out on a rock scramble or busting through the brush than hiking on a dirt road. But that was before. Now I know what it is really like.
Hiking on the dirt road is fairly pleasant and though it gains elevation quite rapidly, it isn’t nearly as steep as those you’ll find in the San Ysidro and Romero areas. Not having to worry about your footing also makes it easier to enjoy the views, and the higher you go the nicer and nicer they get. This is a great walk for those who like walking and talking with a friend or two and you can actually do it side by side, which is pretty hard to do when you are on a narrow trail, having to watch your every step.
Start of the Ridge Route
The road ends abruptly near the upper power line and there are plenty of places to stop for awhile, catch your breath and sample the sights and minty chaparral aromas. Just when you've reached the end of the jeepway and think there is no way to continue on, look for a cut in the chaparral and should be able to spot an almost hidden trail, which I discovered leads up over the high ridgeline right above the power lines over to Tunnel Trail.
After the Jesusita Fire the entire upper part of this area was completely burned to mineral soil and the light vegetation is now pretty thick so the trail is a bit more difficult to negotiate. Don't hesitate to turn around if you find the brush too overgrown or aren't sure where the route goes.
Several switchbacks lead up to the ridgeline proper, more of a knifeblade, a thin, rocky edge leading west to a high point a hundred feet or so higher than my current location. By this point the trail turns more or less into a goat’s path but it always seems open enough to get through, and is never too hard to follow.
What views! Like most rocky ridges this one had plenty of ups n’ downs, though mostly ups, leading me to the high point, which I found out later was almost directly above the peace symbol painted on the cliffs just off Tunnel Trail on one side and the Rattlesnake connector on the other.
I sat near the high point for a while; the views weren’t that much different from the ones back down near the power lines but what a difference. Sitting in the middle of the mountain, perched on my own piece of the rock, I knew I had found my place.
Continuing on I found myself dropping quickly. Using the chaparral on either side for handholds made the down climbing much easier. Before I knew it I found myself sliding out onto Tunnel Trail and heading back down to my car.