El Montanon Trail is a 7.6 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Santa Barbara, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible year-round.
Easily one of the most beautiful hikes Southern California has to offer. Its uniqueness especially contributes to its beauty; hills, canyons, and the Pacific Ocean are all visible throughout numerous portions of the hike. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to go in April after a year of steady rainfall, so there were plentiful wildflowers just off the trail as well.
Given that there's a limited amount of people on Santa Cruz island at any given time (due to its isolation), the El Montanon Trail is the perfect place to hike in complete solitude. The time constraints- if not staying overnight, the boat arrives at 11 AM and leaves at 4 PM- many opt to hike to Smuggler's Cove or Potato Harbor, for an 8-mile trek up one of the highest peaks on the island seems daunting. While there are sections that are strenuous, the hike is quite tranquil and easily completed within the time frame.
Depending on which route you take, the trail eventually narrows from a fire road through campsites to a narrow, single-track trail that is overgrown with tall grass and wildflowers. After the trail crosses a wide creek (dry during my hike), the 1,900 ft. elevation gain begins. It plateaus temporarily at the junction between Smuggler's Road and El Montanon ridge. As you continue on El Montanon ridge, it's not especially likely that you'll run into crowds of people.
The trail up the ridge has endured plentiful rainfall and is therefore washed out and somewhat difficult to follow. However, the rock is stained red (presumably by iron?) so it's impossible to venture too far off the trail. The views begin to become more spectacular as you gain elevation, starting with a quick overlook of the Pacific Ocean, subsequently followed by a view of the other side of the island.
High Mount is an easy summit to bag along the way, and the views from the top are nearly as extraordinary as El Montanon's. The other side of the island, along with Prisoner's Cove (if I'm not mistaken) can be seen on a clear day.
The trail gets a bit rockier and narrower post High Mount, though the views become more memorable. Both sides of the path offer extraordinary views, with Anacapa Island seen to the left (heading upwards to the mountain) and the other side of Santa Cruz Island seen to the right. I was fortunate enough to witness the phenomenon called "fire clouds," where a rainbow-like color forms in cirrus clouds. Certainly a sight I'll never forget.
The true summit of El Montanon is further than the solar panels/building where this AllTrails map has the trail end. The views from the summit are panoramic with nothing (trees, shrubs, etc.) obstructing the spectacular views of the island and ocean. It's definitely worth the journey, regardless of the short timespan you may have to complete it in. Take a lot of water- there aren't many resources on this island.
A strenuous hike, especially if you are hiking from North to South from the Prisoners/Del Norte portion of the island, but well worth it. Beautiful views of Santa Cruz island that offer ocean, rolling hill, canyon, and mountain scenery. Bring plenty of water.
Hiked this about a year ago. It's a beautiful, easy to follow trail to the top of the mountain. Once you reach the top, you'll feel the other side of the island beckoning. We caved to the siren call of the backcountry , went off trail, and quite enjoyed continuing on the ridge that goes towards Smugglers. If you go this way, be prepared to encounter some steep terrain with a thick layer of loose gravelly stone. We did it without trekking poles and stayed on our feet, no problem. Continue down throgh the gresslands (formerly grazing land) until you get to the road, then follow that down to Smugglers. I can't remember how we found our way down to Smugglers exactly, but the Island isn't huge, there aren't any predatory animals, and if you've got a few hours to kill (as is likely), this is a great way to go off trail without feeling like you're getting lost in the woods.