Though not a long nor well-known trail, it leads up to a series of beautiful cascades culminating in a 200’ high waterfall. A small pool is at the base of the falls, making this a great place to hang out for the afternoon. A trail leads around the west side of the canyon to the top of the falls and into the upper canyon where you can find remnants of an old homestead.
Points of Interests: Canyons, Creeks, Waterfalls, Out & Back, Viewpoint
User Types: Hikers
Locations: Front Country, Montecito
Sub Regions: Cold Spring Canyon
Download Directions: Download PDF Map Directions
Off Trail Route
The hike up the Middle Fork Trail to a point above Tangerine Falls is designated an an unoffical off-trail route, meaning that it is not maintained and it is up to you to know whether you have the skills and ability for the hike. Please read the Off Trail information in the section on "Being Prepared" before heading out on the hike.
Recently a person was killed and another seriously injured near the falls when one of them slipped off a slippery rock ledge and the other tried to rescue him. Others have also gotten stranded above the falls when darkness hit and they did not have a flashlight with them. Please be careful and make sure you are prepared for the hike.
To reach the Middle Fork of Cold Spring you will need to hike up the West Fork trail for three-fourths mile to the turnoff to the falls. The lower canyon is extremely narrow, the creek flowing over solid bedrock. The upper part opens into a large semi-circular valley, which is hidden from view until the last moment.
As you hike up the West Fork look up across the canyon every so often. When you spot Tangerine Falls you will know you are close to the trail intersection. There is no sign marking the turnoff. The route up into the Middle Fork canyon isn’t an official trail—even though the original route went this way. Drop down across a small canyon (containing the West Fork creek) then continue straight ahead up into the East Fork.
You will find yourself using your hands a lot, but because of the number of hikers who come up here the trail is becoming more and more developed. To work your way up to the base of Tangerine Falls you will be scrambling most of the way. There are plenty of rocks to hop over and lots of creek crossings. The route is steep but the canyon is beautiful. Once you near the falls there is one last climb you will need to make to get to the actual waterfall. It can be slippery so take care.
Though the hike up to the falls is hard work, once you are there you will be mesmerized by the cascades. Deposits from the mineralized water have created an apron of sorts and there are little pockets in them in which you will find maidenhair ferns and thick green mosses. As the water drops down from the upper heights and hits the apron it turns into a fine mist and it feels very good to stand under it and soak. The deposits have turned the rock a salmon—or what I think of as tangerine color—so that is what I named the falls for my last edition of this day hikes book.
Recently the same persons responsible for “rescuing” the historic East Fork trail from Forest Service oblivion have restored the original route up through the Middle Fork and it is a real treat to be able to hike into the upper canyon.
After the Coyote Fire in 1977 Jim Blakely, the foremost authority on the Santa Barbara back country, located the remains of the old trail. Carefully tracing his way along it, he was able to discover the homestead of a member of the Romero family, after which Romero Canyon is named, and a few relics left behind when the homestead was abandoned—the blade of a rusted plow, a few bottles, and a scattering of tin cans and the remains of an old root cellar.
At the time, however, no one seemed interested in re-establishing the trail and the chaparral slowly began to creep back over it. Despite the thick stands of ceanothus and manzanita which made it impossible to walk on it, the tread remained. Perhaps as a Year 2000 gift, the brush has been cut away, exposing the tread and making it possible to reach the upper canyon.
Look for the upper trail not too far after you’ve turned off the main trail and begun your hike up into the Middle Fork. It switches back and forth several times, heading up pretty steeply then curves left and up until you are on the shoulder of the west fork canyon, looking directly across at the trail leading up to Gibraltar Road.
Turning to the right the trail leads away from the west fork back to the east. Several hundred yards beyond, as you round a corner, Tangerine Falls comes into view and you can see the route all of the way up and past the Pinnacle. Once you reach this unique formation, the trail drops down into the shade of the narrow gorge, which is just up stream of the falls.
The route out to the Pinnacle requires use of your hands as there is a bit of scrambling to get over to it, but once you are there you will love both the perch and the views it affords. This is a very, very nice place to spend an afternoon.
You would expect that it would be easy to reach the top of the falls from here but it isn’t. There is lots of poison oak in the creek and one ten-foot waterfall you would need to down climb to get there. With a rope you might be able to make it.
Hiking into the upper canyon is also a treat. It is narrow and filled with willows, sycamore and oaks, creating a lot of shade and the trail is almost level. There are lots of stream crossings and you will find an assortment of small trails leading off the main one but to reach the homestead area you should generally follow the trail which continues along the creek. If you are lucky you will find the old farm equipment and a bit further up the old root cellar, which is an excellent place for lunch.
It appears that the old route up to the crest is also being restored as well. At one point before you reach the root cellar a trail leads very steeply up a hill on the right side of the creek. Should you explore this you will find yourself following a thin ridgeline directly uphill for a long distance. Eventually you will top out on a larger ridgeline which divides the middle and east forks of Cold Spring from each other.
The route up the main ridge is sketchy now but this could change. There is one final knoll—marking the furthest I have been on this “trail”—on which I would love to spend the night if it weren’t so hard to get here. The spot is open, with a fringe of chaparral all around and there are 360 degree views. The hill drops off in all directions and you can see Camino Cielo just above you, seemingly just a rock’s throw away. But the 300’ drop down to a small saddle and the 900’ climb up to the road means, in mountain terms, you are actually still a long ways away.
If you would like to know where this spot is try looking at the Santa Barbara topo. There is a marker on the map which says “2884” that is right below the “R” in “Forest. Perhaps we will meet there someday.