Inspiration Point is a beautiful hike hidden within the foothills in northern Santa Barbara. Living on the Central Coast, we’re always in search of the best local hiking trails and Inspiration Point does not disappoint!
The Inspiration Point Trail leads to a stunning viewpoint of the Santa Barbara coastline and the ocean. This hike is best done on a clear day to see the amazing views from the top.
In this post, we cover details on where the Inspiration Point Trail is located, where to park, trail difficulty, and what to expect if you plan to hike it!
Inspiration Point Location & Parking
The Inspiration Point Trailhead starts in a residential neighborhood in Santa Barbara. The trailhead is located off Tunnel Road, just north of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
On Google Maps you can find the starting point marked as ‘Inspiration Point Trailhead’. If you use a hiking app like AllTrails, you can find the trail listed as ‘Inspiration Point’ under Los Padres National Forest. Whichever app you use for directions, they both lead to the same starting point.
Once you arrive at the trailhead, parking can be found along Tunnel Road. There isn’t a designated trailhead lot so you’ll need to park along the road wherever you can find a spot.
We came on a Sunday morning and luckily we were able to find an open spot somewhat close to the trailhead. While this is a popular hike, people are constantly walking in and out of the trail.
After you park, keep walking along the Tunnel Road until you reach the large gate which is the trail starting point. There is a trash can at the gate if you need to dispose of any trash before or after the hike.
There is very little to no reception in the Santa Barbara foothills so I recommend downloading an offline hiking app like AllTrails ahead of time. While this is a somewhat easy hike, there are a couple of turns that you will need to make.
This can get a bit confusing as several hiking trails fork off in different directions. If you’re unsure of where to go, follow the route from the AllTrails app which leads directly to the Inspiration Point and back.
Inspiration Point Trail Map:
About Inspiration Point Trail
The Inspiration Point Trail is one of the best hikes that you can do in Santa Barbara. This is a 3.4-mile-long out-and-back trail that allows dogs and is especially popular with the local UCSB students.
The hike is moderate in difficulty and takes a couple of hours to complete. It gains around 950 feet in elevation and steadily climbs up a hill until you reach the end.
The trail finishes at a small overlook of the Santa Barbara coastline. This is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the surrounding views before heading back the same way that you came.
While the trail offers some shaded sections, it’s best done in the early morning before it gets too hot, especially in the summer. The first part of the trail follows a wide paved road with no shade which can be pretty rough for dogs.
Be sure to bring plenty of water for this hike as there is no access to water along the trail. There are a couple of creek crossings but in the summer months, the water dries out completely.
Our Experience Hiking Inspiration Point Trail
After parking near the trailhead, we kept walking along Tunnel Road to find the entrance gate. When you see a sign, be sure to stick to the right to stay on Tunnel Road.
From there keep walking past the gate and stay on the wide canyon road. This section offers great sneak peeks of the ocean and has a small incline. You will cross one man-made bridge although the river below it was completely dry.
The Tunnel Trail was created as a way for construction workers to haul up materials to the Santa Barbara mountains. The project goal was to transport water from the Santa Ynez River to Santa Barbara town during a severe drought in 1904. Now Tunnel Trail is closed to traffic and is primarily used as a hiking trail.
About a mile in you will reach a Mission Canyon trailhead map. This canyon connects several different hiking trails including the:
- Jesusita Trail – This is an alternative, but more difficult way to reach the Inspiration Point coming from the west side. The Jesusita Trail is a challenging, rugged route that is 7 miles long and gains 1500 feet in elevation.
- Rattlesnake Trail – The Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is another hard hike in this region. The trail is only 4.4 miles long but gains 1600 feet in elevation. This is a steep hike with sandy, slippery sections so good hiking shoes and hiking poles are highly recommended.
Soon after the trail map, you will need to make a left on a narrow path to stay on the Inspiration Point Trail. You will come across the Mission Creek crossing although in June the creek was dry.
If you have extra energy and time, you can go on a short detour to the Seven Falls to see multiple cascading waterfalls and pools. But since there was no water in the creek and the weather was getting very hot, we decided to just keep going to the Inspiration Point and come back to hike the Seven Falls section another time.
From the Mission Creek Crossing, the trail becomes a lot more narrow and steep. This next part will require climbing over rocks and tackling steep switchbacks up a mountain. Thankfully parts of the trail here are a bit shaded so we could take breaks during the climb.
Near the top, the trail flattens out and opens up to scenic mountains. Shortly after we reached the Inspiration Point which overlooks the surrounding landscape and the coast.
Overall, this trail offers one of the best views in Santa Barbara and is a great weekend workout! The hike takes a few hours to complete with plenty of stops for resting, water breaks, and taking photos along the way.
Other Visitor Tips
Here are a few other tips to keep in mind before you head out to hike the Inspiration Point trail:
- There is one porta-potty available along the Tunnel Road. There are no other restrooms once you head into the trail.
- There are no trashcans past the entrance gate. Be prepared to bring out any trash including your pet’s.
- The Santa Barbara mountains are known for having lots of snakes. While snake bites are rare, we recommend bringing a snake venom extractor kit. We saw two snakes on this trail which can be dangerous for pets.
- Bring plenty of water for the hike, especially if you plan to hike with your dog. We packed 5 bottles of water and used it all up before getting back to our car. We also like to bring along a collapsible water bowl for our dog.
My Favorite Hiking Gear
Here is what I bring along for hiking in California:
- For quick day hikes, I love the Merrell Trail Running Shoes. This trail is very rocky and requires some scrambling so good trail shoes are a must.
- I always bring polarized sunglasses and sunscreen to help battle the harsh sunlight.
- There were a lot of bugs along this trail, especially nearing the top. Bring insect repellent to keep them away.
- Pack a Headlamp and a first aid kit in case of emergencies.
- Portable phone charger in case your phone runs out of battery and you need to look up directions.
- A light day pack. I use the REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack which fits everything I need for a day hike and comes with a breathable back & mesh straps for extra comfort.
Where To Stay In Santa Barbara
Visiting Santa Barbara from out of town? Here are some of the best places to stay in the area!
Hotel Californian is nestled in Santa Barbara’s vibrant Funk Zone, a district well-known for boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, and art galleries. This five-star hotel sits oceanside and is brimming with upscale comforts that include an outdoor pool, an onsite spa, and easy access to delicious eateries.
The hotel offers suites as well as standard and deluxe rooms. There are also two onsite restaurants, one cafe, and one serving Mediterranean dishes.
La Playa Inn Santa Barbara is a highly-reviewed hotel for its friendly staff and superbly clean facilities. With your booking, you can expect your room to be equipped with a fridge, coffee maker, air conditioning, and a flat-screen TV with complimentary movie channels. It’s possible to book standard rooms as well as family-friendly suites that accommodate up to four guests.
Guests that stay at La Playa Inn also enjoy an included continental breakfast each morning as well as 24-hour coffee and tea in the lobby. This property is conveniently within walking distance of both the Pacific Ocean and the downtown streets of Santa Barbara.
Wake up to the sound of ocean waves at the Santa Barbara Inn. This beachside hotel exudes elegance while highlighting the beauty of the coast.
When you’re not off enjoying the ocean, relax in the hotel’s bubbling hot tub or get in a workout at the fitness center. The hotel’s Italian restaurant, Convivo, serves a satisfying meal overlooking the ocean.
Inspiration Point is a wonderful trail in Santa Barbara offering stunning ocean views and beautiful scenery. If you’re looking for more things to do in the area, check out these posts next:
- 15 Best Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Tours
- 15 Best Santa Barbara Water Tours
- 20 Top Stops On a Road Trip From LA To San Francisco
- How To Hike The Cold Spring Trail Loop In Santa Barbara
- 9 Best Breweries In Santa Barbara
- Hiking Toro Canyon Park In Santa Barbara
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!