Once a part of the historic Camino Cielo Road that George Owen Knapp helped to build, the old road has been restred as a single track traverse thanks to a friend by the name of Paul and a few of his friends. While the traverse can be made as an out and back walk from either end, by combining it with a climb up over a high knoll that has been opened up for fire protection and then looping back to your car.
Paul's Traverse, or Paul's Loop as I call it, if you return back to your car by way of the high knoll that separates one end of the traverse from the other, was once a part of the grand Camino Cielo Road built through the efforts of George Owen Knapp and other wealthy Santa Barbarans who wanted access to the mountains and interior backcountry. At some point in time a section of the original road near Romero Saddle was re-routed north along the backside of the mountain and the section we now know as Paul's Traverse steadily deteriorated until brush, rock slides and erosion made it almost impossible to get through.
My friend Paul took me out to look at the route one day quite a while ago and showed me what the trail could look like with a little bit of effort. Unfortunately, the route wasn't on the Forest Service inventory and it wasn't likely it ever would be. Not put off by that. Paul enlisted a few friends and each time they'd ride up on their mountain bikes they'd brush out a little more of the trail. As it turned out, most of the road base needed for the tread was still wide enough for the trail and just needed brushing. In a few of the slide areas the unofficial crew slowly removed larger boulders and turned them into outside retaining walls where slides had created obstacles. Within a few years the trail became passable and in the past few, one of the most well restored and best maintained trails in our area.
Whether from the east or west side, Paul's Traverse provides a great out and back walk about 2 miles in length with great views and the way the trail winds in and out of the chaparral is delightful. The easiest route begins at the top of the Old Romero Road near the cement water tank. The first quarter mile of the walk is almost level as you work your way south to an open saddle along the ridgeline. When you reach the saddle look for the beginning of the traverse on the right. The trail is easy to follow and winds in and out of the chaparral which provides a bit of shade and great views in the small pocket windows formed by the brush. The walk is easy, with a gain of just under 300 feet to Camino Cielo.
From this point it is easy to re-trace your steps back to the car, but for some of the best views in town, especially in the later part of the day when the hillsides become to come alive with color, there is an off-trail route created as a part of a fuels management program conducted by the Forest Service along Camino Cielo. You'll climb an additional 250' to make it over the high point but it is well worth the effort. The first 150 yards of the loop are the steepest and once you make it up this section the grade lessens and the views increase.
For the next half mile the route gradually climbs up over a series of small knolls studded with lots of rock outcroppings and the trail is relatively open. Near the high point there is a rock formation that almost looks like a castle and beyond that the trail becomes a bit more sketchy due to the low brush that chokes the trail. A reminder — long pants are best suited to this part of the trail though not necessary. One long flat section fills with flowers in the spring and make this part of the loop especially nice.
Then, without warning, the trail begins to descend rapidly as it drops off the high knoll. There is a 75 yard section that is very steep and eroded that you can slide out on if you aren't careful. Reminder #2 — trekking poles will make this a much easier descent. Beyond this the trail, which is actually more of an old dozer route, continues to drop, losing 400 feet as it takes you directly back down to your car — quite an end to the hike but an adventure nonetheless.