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Santa Ynez River

Santa Barbara, California, United States


Sometimes you forget what silence sounds like. But if you leave the city and drive out to the Santa Ynez River, you will be awed by how you can literally hear NOTHING except the faint babble of water as it trickles over rocks. With a sigh of relief, you realize how silence is good for the soul!
Bring lilos (this is the aussie word for blowup mattresses) and have fun bobbing around on the water. It's nice to swim on a floating kickboard here because it keeps your feet off the rocks and keeps you out of the water a little so the sun can warm you. Swims in Santa Ynez river can be "refreshing," that's for sure! But even when numb and shivering, we love it! Swim across to the tiny island, find a perfect smooth pebble, and skid it across the water.
The last time we arrived at the river, we saw deer running in the pale green woods. It was such a treat!
Some weekends or summer days it can be crowded here- once we were even turned away by rangers because the area was filled to capacity. Most of the year, though, you will have the river all to yourself, especially if you come early, before 11am.
The drive to the Santa Ynez river from Santa Barbara is part of the joy of going. It's a stunning drive through the Los Padres forest with views over Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.
Other places to explore on Highway 154 are: Red Rock, which is currently (March 2017) a long trek because the road is closed; Lake Cachuma, a peaceful lake with grassy picnic areas and a nice playground; Playgrounds, a hiking and rock-climbing spot up in the mountains with huge boulders and panoramic views of Santa Barbara; and Lizard's Mouth, a short hike to little caves overlooking a gorgeous view of Santa Barbara and Goleta- this is a fun place for older kids because there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

Photo Gallery

Deer at Santa Ynez River. Look at those big ears!

A deer runs by at Santa Ynez River, near the parking lot.

Looking down the Santa Ynez River.

Santa Ynez River, at wintertime. Kids will be entertained as they make a pile of their favorite rocks.

Skimming rocks on the surface of Santa Ynez River during the winter, when it was a bit mossy-looking.

Flowers on the mountain, in March.

The river looks kind of weird since the drought.

This is the nicest spot to have a swim.

A family plays in the river.

Burnt trees and flowers.

A young woman steps gingerly into the freezing cold water.

Little rapids!


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

From Highway 101 exit at State St/Highway 154 and follow the signs to Highway 154. Head up and over the mountains on Highway 154 for ten miles. After the huge bridge, turn right on Paradise Rd. Follow Paradise Road for 3.3 miles. You will pass "Paradise Campground" on your right. Very soon after that you will come to "Los Padres National Forest Day Use: White Rock" on your left. Turn in and park. Walk the dirt path along the river until you find a nice spot to sit!
Parking costs $10.
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