For those that are car camping in the area, the hike to the reservoir provides a leisurely stroll into the upper end of the Santa Ynez drainage. The reservoir is picturesque and on the north side large slabs of sandstone that provide a scenic backdrop. Alder Creek is located in a small but very pretty canyon that is filled with its namesake—alder trees.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Points of Interests: Canyons, Creeks, Out & Back, Backcountry Camp
User Types: Backpackers, Hikers, Equestrians, Mountain Bikers, Dog Walker, Trail Runners
Locations: Upper Santa Ynez River
Download Directions: Download PDF Map Directions
There are established Forest Service camps at Alder Creek and upper Santa Ynez Camp. Check the descriptions in the backpacking section for them.
Want a relatively easy hike, with views out across the blue waters of a small reservoir, and an enchanting alder-filled canyon at the upper end of your 4 mile walk? Then try this hike.
The lower part of the hike begins at the back of Juncal Camp at a locked gate and follows a graded dirt road up the left side of the valley for 2.5 miles to the reservoir. This section has scattering of oak trees, meadows, and if the reservoir is spilling, a crystal clear creek. Near the base of the reservoir you’ll encounter the only major climb, a 300’ elevation gain which brings you out on the right side of the lake, which is owned by the Montecito Water District.
From this point the road continues along the water’s edge, eventually leading to the upper end of the watershed at a saddle known as Murietta Divide. About a half mile from dam look for a side road leading to the right and down. This is the turnoff to Alder Creek. You’ll know you’re near when you see the water flume leading from the creek.
A quarter mile’s stroll across a meadow leads you to the mouth of the canyon and the beginning of a beautiful hike along pools and waterfalls and an abundance of creekside vegetation. The ferns and moss covered rocks are especially pretty. Alder Camp is a mile above, just beyond a point where the creek forks.
If you’d rather, continue along the lake rather than heading up into Alder Creek. Above the reservoir is an area known as Billiard Flats, which is composed of open meadows and rolling hills. Due to the Ojai Fire of 1985, which burned this area, the Flats is still open enough for you to walk off-trail. Beyond Billiard Flats the canyon again narrows and begins to climb to Murietta Divide which is 2 miles above the upper end of the reservoir.
You will find year round water at a small camp (Santa Ynez) just before you reach the Divide.