There are two kinds of people in this world: those who desperately cling to summer even as sweater weather beckons, and those who embrace the changing seasons. Luckily, Santa Barbara has something for everyone. And for the latter, we’ve got great news: fall is the perfect time to lace up your running shoes and hit the trails. From the coastal mesas to the foothills and canyons of the Santa Ynez mountain range, these fall trail runs have something for every speed and fitness level.
Looking for breathtaking fall foliage? Want to push yourself to the limit now that the summer heat has waned? Need a beach-adjacent trail to soak up the season’s sunshine? We’ve got you covered in this roundup of the best trails for Santa Barbara runners who love fall.
Inspiration Point earns its name by offering some of the area’s best sightseeing. If you’re looking for panoramic views of the city from a well-maintained trail, then Inspiration Point is your best bet. You can start at the dog-friendly Tunnel Trail for a 3.5-mile route that includes an achievable 800-foot elevation gain.
Or, if you’re looking for a longer run, you can start at Jesusita Trail for a 7.5-mile round-trip run. Whichever route you choose, make sure you stop at the top to take in a killer view of the city’s changing foliage and the Pacific’s Santa Barbara Channel.
Pro tip: because this spot is close to town, it can get crowded. And make sure to watch for mountain bikers bombing the downhill!
Bluffs Overlook Trail
What’s that? You’re looking for an easy to moderate, 3.5-mile run along 80-foot high cliffs that parallel the ocean? Well, have we got the trail for your oddly specific needs. Bluffs Overlook is a relatively flat trail with incredible views of the Pacific. It also passes through the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, right next to California’s largest Monarch butterfly over-wintering groves. The first butterflies start to arrive in late October, so if you plan your fall run right, you might just get to see Goleta’s most popular seasonal visitors.
The Bluffs Overlook Trail is a mellow run for anyone who appreciates scenic autumn views.
More Mesa Loop
More Mesa is a 265-acre preserve tucked into the coastal neighborhoods and farmland of Goleta. The wide-open, grassy fields are the perfect place for your pup to romp while you glide through the area’s vast network of trails and roads.
The 3-mile More Mesa Loop winds through aromatic eucalyptus stands and grassy fields with gorgeous views of the volcanic Channel Islands. Because most of the trails are packed sand, it’s perfect for runners with sensitive knees and ankles. If you’re looking to extend your run, the Obern Trail Bike Path runs just east of the loop. This 21-mile bike path lets you customize your distance. It’s well-marked, and mostly paved, making it easy to track your mileage.
Ready to feel the sand between your toes? You can cut down to the More Mesa Beach for sand running. But consider yourself warned: sections of the beach are clothing optional.
This 6.5-mile gate-to-gate run made Runner’s World Trail of the Month list in 2014. It has a little bit of everything that makes Santa Barbara a runner’s dream. You’ll wind through shady tree cover and creek crossings, climb canyon trails dotted with mountain sage, and finally, end on impressive ocean views. Because of its east-west orientation, the setting sun casts a pink glow over sandy beaches, dark blue waters, and brushy mountains.
With 2,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead, this isn’t a route for the faint of heart. Just remember the mantra: the steeper the climb, the better the view.
Unwind after your fall trail runs
When it’s time to unwind after your run, Swell is here to help. Soak sore muscles in the hot tub, or hit up a yoga class for some restorative stretching. However you choose to experience fall, we hope you do it with Santa Barbara spirit. Did we miss one of your favorite fall trail runs? Let us know so we can share it with the Swell community!