Backtracking a little to our California adventures earlier in the year, we realized that we had never talked about our hike to see the Cagiota Wind Caves. This is definitely a hike worth mentioning.
The Gaviota Wind Caves emerge from the mountains cradling Hwy 101 west of Santa Barbara, CA. The pockmarked sandstone face of the mountaintops shows dramatic hollowed-out “cave” areas and are one of the many unique geological formations in the area. (Hot springs are nearby, with many hiking trails running along the beautiful ridges.)
We set out to visit the Gaviota Wind Caves on a recent vacation, and made several important discoveries along the way.
- While the caves are widely publicized as being a part of California’s Gaviota State Park, if you’re coming from Santa Barbara, the exit labeled “Gaviota State Park” will not lead you to them! You will need to travel further west by about 10 miles to the “Gaviota Campground” exit. Then, take Hollister Ranch Road up the hill to the right; almost immediately, Gaviota Beach Road turns to the right and there are gravel turnouts on both sides of the road. Park here, and access the trailhead on the right next to a mountain lion warning sign. (In case you’re curious, our visit was entirely free of mountain lions.)
- Trailhead address: Hollister Ranch Road, Gaviota State Park, Goleta, CA 93117
- Trailhead coordinates: 34.471706, -120.229656 (34° 28′ 18.14″N 120° 13′ 46.76″W)
- We visited in February and discovered a field of poison oak running right through the center of the trail, just before reaching the caves. Hopefully this will be dealt with by park rangers or at least is less of an issue in some other seasons, but this was a bittersweet end to our hike, not being able to make it safely (with four children!) all the way to the caves.
Despite those caveats, however, we did have a perfectly enjoyable time, and ended up meandering through some of the ridges on connected hiking trails where there were great views and ideal weather for comfortable hiking.
The first half of the Gaviota Wind Caves trail is paved and very accessible. The second, not so much! The trail is surrounded by underbrush, and our 4-year-old had to be carried through a few sections to avoid twigs at her face level. (This didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for the adventure in the least, though!) Even as adults, you will definitely want to wear long pants to avoid scratches.
This is a spot we may return to (another time or season) to give it another try if we are in the area again.