From the crest, just east of the top of Gibraltar Road, you can see out over the Santa Ynez River canyon. Looking almost directly below, you can see the upper end of Gibraltar Reservoir, its blue water looking like a jewel shimmering in the midst of an otherwise dull-green landscape. Three major drainages feed into the lake—Indian and Mono creeks; the Agua Caliente drainage; and the upper Santa Ynez.
Your gaze will naturally seem to follow the contours of the canyon upstream and into these watersheds. They feed from springs located high in the San Rafael Mountains: Indian Creek originates on Big Pine Mountain near Bluff Camp; Mono Creek on the upper edge of Madulce Peak. Two miles from the upper end of the reservoir, Mono Creek enters It is easily spotted by the fan-shaped cluster of cottonwood trees and willows at its base. Following this drainage almost directly north leads your eye into wild country, the Dick Smith Wilderness.
Just above Mono Debris Dam the creek splits into two forks, both of which eventually lead into it. As your gaze wanders to the right, the second major drainage that comes into view is the Agua Caliente — where you’ll find a relaxing hot springs (one of Knapp’s country retreats was located here), Big Caliente Debris Dam, and in the upper canyon, exquisitely eroded sandstone. If you need help or information, Pendola Ranger Station is located at the base of Agua Caliente Canyon, which can be located by two major peaks to be found directly behind it—the Hildreth peaks. Both are over 5000’ in elevation.
Beyond them is the upper end of Mono Creek To the far right is the upper Santa Ynez river drainage. If you look closely you can spot Jameson Reservoir (Juncal Dam), a small body of water owned by the Montecito Water District. Beyond the lake, a wall of mountains define the boundary between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. In air miles from Jameson Reservoir, the rural community of Ojai is actually not too far. The wall is formed by two massive mountains, Old Man Mountain and Monte Arido. Old Man has sort of a pointed look to it, with the points leaning somewhat to the right. In these canyons you will find some of the finest mountain bike riding that Santa Barbara has to offer.
There are four car campgrounds located in the upper Santa Ynez River canyon. Mid-Santa Ynez and P-Bar Flats are located in the open bottom lands of the Agua Caliente watershed, not too far from the Pendola Ranger Station and there is a third camp a few miles up Agua Caliente called Rock Camp, a very pretty but small camp not too far from the hot springs.
Mono Camp is the furthest, and is just below the confluence of Indian and Mono Creeks. While there are no fees for using these campsites, there is also no water is available at them, so you’ll need to bring an adequate supply with you. Camping is on a first come, first serve basis and the limit you may stay is 14 days.
Primitive area camping is also available, either by backpack or mountain bike. Blue Canyon, the upper Santa Ynez River, Mono Creek, and Indian Creek all have sites which may be used. Camping is in established campsites only and fires must be kept to the facilities provided by the Forest Service. This is a one-way in, one-way out canyon and if a wildfire should occur, it is a long way out. Overnight camping is not permitted at either of the hot springs.
There’s usually a table available at any of the camps with the exception of holiday weekends such as Lincoln or Washington’s birthdays or the Memorial Day and July 4th periods. Plus there are plenty of places to hunker down for a feast right by the river. You will also find two established picnic areas in Agua Caliente Canyon—Lower Caliente and Big Caliente, which is located at the hot springs.
From the Top of Gibraltar Road
0.0 Intersection of Camino Cielo and Gibraltar roads
3.0 Cold Springs/Forbush Flats trailheads
3.2 San Ysidro trailhead
5.8 Romero Saddle
7.0 Start of the Divide Peak ORV trailhead
7.6 Escondido Creek
9.0 Blue Canyon trailhead
10.4 Juncal Camp
13.4 Agua Caliente Canyon/Pendola Ranger Station
13.5 Mid-Santa Ynez Camp
14.1 P-Bar Flats Camp
14.7 Access road to Santa Ynez River
17.0 Mono Camp/Debris Dam
18.0 Mono Creek Road/Little Caliente Hot Springs
19.2 Indian Creek trailhead
19.3 Locked Gate/Beginning of the Camuesa Road