Make the Punch Bowls hike in Los Padres National Forest your next day trip from L.A.
Santa Barbara’s Spanish-Moorish architecture and beautiful sandy beaches are a major draw, but the mountains are worth exploring too. Acting as a dramatic backdrop to the city, you’ll find a range of incredible trails through Los Padres National Forest. One of which is the Santa Paula Punch Bowls Trail, which takes you through the rugged terrain and into the rocky Santa Paula Canyon.
Water cascades down the canyon creating paradisiacal natural pools with waterslides out of the smooth grey rock, ending with a spectacular 25-feet waterfall. The popular trek is around 8 miles round-trip and consists of some fairly challenging inclines and boulder scrambling sections. The trail is also known for being difficult to follow and post-wildfire conditions can create mudslides. So, make sure you travel safely and follow the GPS.
The pools of water or “Punch Bowls” are incredibly clear and can get up to 7 feet deep, depending on the rainfall. Occasionally, the “bowls” will be completely flooded and you might not be able to make them out from the rest of the water flow. Your adventure starts at the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead and enters the forest after around 1.5 miles.
Once you hear the soothing sound of Santa Paula Creek, you’ll follow it upstream until you find the trail. Continue through Big Cone Camp until you reach a fork in the trail. Head left if you want to go to the Punch Bowl and right if you’re looking for the slides. As you venture further upm you’ll find more pools and smaller waterfalls, but the terrain becomes increasingly challenging to traverse.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to beautiful natural landscapes which is home to diverse wildlife (including the endangered steelhead trout) and the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. While it has definitely endured neglect over the years, you can already see major improvements thanks to recent efforts. The Save Santa Paula Canyon initiative is aiming to combat litter, graffiti and oil drilling with laws, trail maintenance and volunteers. So if you do decide to visit make sure you respect your surroundings, leave no trace or find out how you can get involved here.
For trail details, you can visit Hike Los Padres here.