In the mountains above Santa Barbara, there’s a famous ruined mansion with fantastic panoramic views of Santa Ynez Valley. One of the many hidden gems near Santa Barbara, the so-called Knapp’s Castle is a palatial estate that burned down over seventy years ago, and the remains are now a popular short hiking destination. It’s a pretty easy hike, kid friendly, and less than a mile round trip, with about 50 feet of elevation change. Although it can be tricky to find the trail, the majestic views from this unique spot are worth the effort.
K napp’s Castle is a plot of privately owned land surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest. Since the area is technically on private property, the owner is often present. Be sure to treat this place with respect. Finding the trailhead can be difficult because it is an unmarked dirt road. Coming from the 154, turn right on East Camino Cielo and drive three miles east to an elevation of 2,900 feet. Stop at a small pullout on the right hand side of the road. Take the unmarked gated dirt road across from the pull out, and follow the trail down the north side of the mountain. After a quarter mile, as Knapp’s Castle comes into view, turn right, passing through a gate to reach the ruins.
The trail was pretty quick and easy for us, despite me carrying a heavy load (baby on board! 😉 ). It’s a great hike to bring the entire family, and is kid friendly. It was cool to take a detailed look at the ruins, which include big stone walls, stairs, and amazing arches. And the views are spectacular! I think that the upper area of the castle has the prettiest views, especially the beautiful arched windows where you can see the Santa Ynez River Canyon, Lake Cachuma, and the San Rafael Mountains. There’s also an area that looks like an amphitheater and it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic, hang out, or just to sit and watch the sunset while the kids play. And don’t miss the swing! The lower portion of the castle has a beautiful tree with a rope swing tied to it (not sure how safe it is, but it seemed pretty sturdy). It’s hard to beat swinging at a castle in the mountains while you watch the sunset. 😉
Be safe and enjoy your visit to Knapp’s Castle! And don’t forget your camera! 🙂