The Definitive Guide to Hiking Inspiration Point in Santa Barbara

Inspiration Point is a 3.4-mile out-and-back trail that is considered moderately challenging and has an elevation gain of nearly 1,000 feet. Typically, the hike takes two to three hours to complete. One of Santa Barbara’s most popular hikes, it’s frequented by visitors, locals and well-behaved, leashed dogs (yes—this trail is pet-friendly!), especially on the weekends. 

How to Get to Inspiration Point

The Inspiration Point Trailhead is located in a residential neighborhood just off Tunnel Road. You’ll know that you’re close when you begin to see cars lining the right side of the road—like we said, it’s a popular hike!

Once you’re parked, keep walking up the street until you reach a large gate where you’ll see signage indicating which direction you should take. As you get further along on your hike, you’ll notice that the path connects to several other longer hiking trails that are worth exploring if you have the time. 

Helpful Tip: To ensure you find the correct trailhead, we recommend using Google Maps or AllTrails.

What to Expect on the Hike

The hike begins on a wide path called Tunnel Trail that meanders up the west side of Mission Canyon, offering pristine views from the get-go. Fun fact: This trail was once used to transport water from the Santa Ynez River to the local townspeople.

 After about a mile, you’ll reach the Mission Canyon Trailhead that connects to several other hiking trails. Take a left up the narrow path that leads to Inspiration Point, then to Mission Creek. During most times of the year, the creek is low, so you shouldn’t have an issue crossing. This is also a great spot to stop for a photo and to enjoy the peaceful sounds of the trickling streams.

 From there, the trail starts to get steeper. This part of the trail, while the most difficult, is shaded, providing plenty of opportunities to catch your breath and take a sip of water during the climb. It’s also at this point that you’ll encounter a plethora of local fauna, including towering trees, colorful wildflowers and more.

At the top of the trail, the path flattens to reveal the inspirational Santa Barbara coastline. Take it all in, snap some photos and congratulate yourself for completing this strenuous yet rewarding journey!

To get back to the trailhead, follow the same path down. Be mindful as the decline is steep and can be slippery in some spots, especially after rain.

Helpful Tip: Download a trail map prior to your hike as cell phone reception can be spotty. 

What to Bring

Here is a quick list of some items we recommend bringing on your hike.

  • Water: No matter the time of year, you’re in direct sun for nearly all of the hike, which means having plenty of water on-hand is crucial for a successful trip. If you’re bringing your furry friends along, be sure to pack enough water for them as well.
  • Sunscreen: Along with water, we suggest applying sunscreen prior to this sunny hike. Make sure to bring it with you to reapply later during the trek.
  • Hiking boots: As mentioned above, this trail is steep. We recommend wearing hiking boots with substantial grip.
  • Trash bags: If you’re bringing your dog or snacks, ensure that you leave the trail as you found it by picking up after yourself and your furry companion.
  • Camera: Inspiration Point is renowned for its incredible views both along and at the end of the trail. Capture the unique scenery and your memories with your phone or camera. 
  • Hiking poles: For those who need assistance with balance or would like more security, we recommend bringing hiking poles. 

Other Trails in Los Padres National Forest

Within Los Padres National Forest, there are a countless number of trails, ranging from short, easy jaunts to long, strenuous treks. If you like Inspiration Point, here are three others you should check out! 

Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon is a 4.5-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 1,587 feet. The route is considered challenging and takes nearly three hours to complete. The trail is open year-round and is frequented by runners, hikers and horseback riders. Leashed dogs are also welcome at Rattlesnake Canyon.

Jesusita Trail

Above, we mentioned that there are several trails that begin at the Mission Canyon Trailhead. Jesusita Trail is one of them. This trail is a longer way to access Inspiration Point and is considered moderately challenging. The seven-mile Jesusita Trail has an elevation gain of 1,574 feet and takes around four hours to complete. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Seven Falls Trail

Another pet-friendly trail that can be accessed while hiking to Inspiration Point is Seven Falls. The trail is 3.4 miles out and back and takes hikers to some of the most incredible waterfalls in Los Padres National Forest. The descent to the falls is quite steep, so we recommend bringing poles. 

Looking for more? Explore this list of the best hikes in Santa Barbara!