Both the east and west forks of Mission Creek have eroded through the highly resistant Coldwater Sandstone forming in the upper off-trail sections a series of narrows with deep pools, steep falls, and rich green fern coverings—the fabled Seven Falls. For hundreds of thousands of years erosive forces have eaten away at the Matilija Sandstone which forms the bulk of La Cumbre Peak, and the grinding power of the sand and water as they tumbled downhill has etched magical shapes in the rock formations below. One of these is a series of small falls and deep potholes known for more than a century as Seven Falls.
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.
To reach this beautiful glen continue past the turnoff to Tunnel Trail and follow Jesusita Trail for two hundred yards until it drops down into the west fork of Mission Canyon. The falls are a quarter mile up this fork.
The easiest route to the falls is via the creek. Rock hopping, a bit of scrambling and a few creek crossings lead to the falls. Just as you start upstream there is also a trail of sorts on the left. This will take you through the chaparral part way up to Seven Falls but at some point you will need to follow the creek.
In the spring ,and usually the summer months too, the water will be flowing at the falls, allowing you to swim in the deeper pools or—if conditions are right—slide off the edge of the last falls. The pool below is usually plenty deep but those of us who are cautious check the pool first for any hidden obstacles.
If you are adventurous you might consider hiking up into the upper canyon. The biggest challenge will be getting past the falls. Make your way around what is now a large orange tree (how many of you remember when it was a small seedling?) and look for the toeholds chipped into the rock to help you up the first ten foot wall. From the small apron on top it may seem impossible to get any farther but a few short maneuvers will get you past the last two pools and allow you to hike on. A caution: don’t try to make it past by climbing up the rock. It is easy to get stuck and extremely dangerous.
There are several waterfalls in the next few hundred yards, and at some point you will always run into flowing water no matter how dry or late into the season it is. Prior to the early 1900s Seven Falls always flowed year round, but not so after the tunnel was cut through the Santa Ynez Mountains, diverting much of the water which would have otherwise percolated downward.
A quarter mile will bring you to another set of pools. These are formed by a last upthrust layer of Coldwater Sandstone, and they are well worth the hike up to them.
It is also possible to scramble up the creek and eventually reach Tunnel Trail at Mission Falls, creating a strenuous but exciting loop. Look for a fork in the creek leading off to the right next to the large stand of prickly pear. The route is straight up the creekbed, steeply up and over lots boulders which chock the creek all the way to Mission Falls. A brush-choked path leads up the right side of the 200’ waterfall.