Just beyond P-Bar Flats, a road leads down to the river and provides access to Blue Canyon, Cold Springs Canyon and the Mono Trail. Along the river you’ll find willows, cottonwoods and other riparian vegetation as well as a variety of wildlife. The hiking is almost level though it is possible to do several long loop hikes from this area.
While there used to be a road crossing the river and continuing along the south bank of the river for quite a while, making the balance of the hike to the Cold Springs Trail fairly easy, high water years in 1995, 1998 and 2005 washed out the road and made it much more difficult to make it through this section. If you are prepared to get wet, it is usually fairly easy to walk up or down this section of the river but fallen trees or other debris could mkae this a challenge in some years.
Access to the Santa Ynez River and a number of trails is to be found a half mile beyond P-Bar Flats. Not only will you find plenty of places to picnic or sunbathe along the river, but you also have access to Blue Canyon, the Cold Springs Trail, and the lower Mono Canyon.
As you drive beyond P-Bar Flats, look for the Cottam trail which leads to the left and down. Follow this until you reach the river. From the main road it is a little more than a half mile to the river where you may or may not find running water, depending on the season. The walk is level and through groves of oaks and sycamores, grassy meadows, and the remains of ancient streambeds.
The route to Blue Canyon isn’t too difficult to spot since the side canyon leading up into it is pretty visible. From the river it is .7 mile of almost level easy trail hiking to Cottam Camp where you will find a picnic table beneath the outstretched arms of a large oak tree. Blue Canyon Trail leads to the left from this camp.
If an extended hike is what you would like, continue across to the right side of the large meadow and look for the connector trail leading up to Forbush Flats. The hike to Forbush Flats is short—three-quarters of a mile—but you gain 800’, making the effort fairly strenuous. But from there it is all downhill. Turn right at Forbush Flats and take the Cold Springs Trail back down to the river. This will brins you out about a mile below the entrance into Blue Canyon. To get back to this spot you go up the right side of the Santa Ynez River about a mile. At the bottom of Cold Springs Trail, look for a route through the willow thickets. Depending on the recent rainfall patterns the channel shifts from time to time and the only way upstream may be found by walking along the edge of the river or directly in it. Eventually you'll come upon the Cottam Trail which will take you back to your car.
FYI, in December the hike along the river is lovely with the water usually low enough to walk along the river without getting wet and the cottonwoods and willows a bright yellow in their winter colors. The more conservative way to hike this loop is to head downstream first to reach the Cold Springs Trail, thus assuring you'll actually be able to make it through the river section.