Arroyo Hondo Preserve

Arroyo Hondo

Reservations are required by calling (805) 567-1115 or emailing [email protected].

Called the “Jewel of the Gaviota Coast,” the 782-acre Arroyo Hondo Preserve is a magnificent canyon located west of Santa Barbara between Refugio State Beach and Gaviota State Park. The old ranch is rich in early California history and has an abundance of outstanding natural features.Within its steep canyon walls is a hidden place of extraordinary beauty and serenity. Cool, stream-side paths through the bay and sycamore trees transition into trails past ancient oak trees, tall yucca blooms and aromatic sages up the high ridges of the Santa Ynez Mountains. There, you are greeted with sweeping vistas of the Gaviota coastline and the distant islands of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The watershed is home to thousands of plant and animal species, including several that are considered threatened or endangered. Purchased from the Hollister family in late 2001, Arroyo Hondo is now protected forever and managed by the Land Trust as a natural and historic preserve. Visitors are invited to come explore its beauty and diversity.

To make a reservation to visit the Arroyo Hondo Preserve, call (805) 567-1115 or email us.

Your donations help operate the Preserve and assist with restoration of this incredible canyon.

Visiting Arroyo Hondo

Plein Air 2011 artist at workEveryone is welcome to visit the Preserve to hike, picnic, paint, volunteer or do research but advance reservations are required. The Preserve is open the first and third full weekends of each month, and every Monday and Wednesday for school and community groups. Free nature hikes with one of our knowledgeable docents are held at 10:00am on Saturday and Sunday of weekends that are open to the public.

Due to the sensitivity of the resources in the canyon, dogs, mountain bikes, horses, hunting, fishing and campfires are not allowed.

For individuals and small groups a suggested donation of $5 or $10 per person would be appreciated to help operate the preserve. To become a Friend of Arroyo Hondo and support the preserve and programs we offer you can make a donation on site or online. Annual family membership is $75 and individual membership is $50. Schools are invited at no cost to come out for a fun and fascinating Environmental Education field trip led by our trained docents. The Preserve is available for large events of up to 100 people for a fee, which varies with the type of use.


From Santa Barbara: Traveling northbound on the U.S. Highway 101, the Preserve is about a thirty minute drive from downtown and approximately four miles past Refugio State Beach. After the Refugio exit, pay attention to the blue CalTrans call boxes spaced one mile apart on the right hand side. The Arroyo Hondo entrance is located at call box 101-412. Make an immediate right hand turn into the driveway.

From Buellton/Lompoc: Traveling southbound on the U.S. Highway 101, approximately 6 miles past Gaviota State Park and a mile after the Vista Point Rest Area, look for the blue CalTrans Call Box #101-403. Be in the left hand lane. Just after the Call Box, make a u-turn (turn lane provided) onto the northbound lanes of the U.S. Highway 101. In a mile, make a sharp right turn into the Preserve immediately after blue CalTrans Call Box #101-412.

If you miss the U-turn, the next turnaround is at Refugio State Beach about four miles south. Come down the driveway, cross the bridge and park near the barn.

To return to Santa Barbara: Head north a few miles to Mariposa Reina exit, get off, go over bridge and enter southbound on ramp.


Call The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County at (805) 966-4520 during business hours Monday-Friday. Admission to the preserve is by invitation or reservation only. To make a reservation, email us or call the Preserve at (805) 567-1115. Our Preserve managers are often working outdoors and will return your call.


Vincente Ortega, the last Ortega family member to live at Arroyo Hondo.

The earliest known inhabitants of Arroyo Hondo are from the Barbareno-Chumash civilization 5,000 years ago. Evidence of a permanent Chumash camp has been discovered buried deep in the lower canyon.

J.J. and Barbara Hollister with Land Trust President John Helmer at the dedication of the Hollister Family Meadow in 2002.

Rancho Arroyo Hondo was part of the original 26,530-acre Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mexican land grant to former Santa Barbara Presidio Commandant Jose Francisco Ortega in 1827. The adobe house was built in 1842 by the Ortega family and was used as a stagecoach stop on the route between Lompoc and Santa Barbara in the late 1800s.

As the railroad and highway were being constructed, the adobe also served as a bar and eatery for the workers. Historic photos show a small schoolhouse where children along the Gaviota Coast came to school.

The canyon was also known to be a refuge for several well-known outlaws including Joaquin Murrieta, Jack Powers and Judge Edward McGowan and a vineyard site for the Santa Inez Mission Padres.

Mission-era grapevines still grow amongst the tall Sycamore trees in the lower canyon. Jennie B. Hollister purchased the ranch from the Ortega family in 1908, and her family held the property until the Land Trust purchased it in 2001.



Volunteering at the Preserve

Volunteer Work Days are held on the Saturday of the 1st and 3rd full weekends of each month from 9:00 am-12:30 pm at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve. Volunteers are needed to help us make the trails safe and restore native habitat along the creek corridor. They are also are needed to pull out invasive non-native weeds that threaten the sensitive habitats of the canyon and replant with native plants. We are letting most of the ranch roads naturally convert to hiking trails, and hope to create a new loop trail through the backcountry. We then intend to connect these trails with the Los Padres National Forest. To RSVP, please contact John Warner, Preserve Manager at [email protected].

Docent Training Program:

At our beautiful Arroyo Hondo Preserve, volunteer docents are always needed to lead school programs and interpretive tours for adults and families. Our Docent Training Class is held annually and includes interesting classes taught by Land Trust Staff and other local natural history experts. Training topics include ecology, flora, fauna, and geology of Arroyo Hondo. Local history, especially history of the canyon, and Chumash uses of plants, will also be covered. Other classes will include tips for teaching adults and children in the outdoor classroom as well as safety information. We are happy to have volunteers join our team as apprentices between training times. Apprentices work with seasoned docents until the time comes for the formal training class.

Please contact Sally Isaacson at [email protected] if you are interested.


Docents at bathtub tree x copyUCSB Volunteers with John x

Environmental Education

Land Trust docents lead students and community groups on a trek through the wonders of Arroyo Hondo. It is an ideal setting for field trips where students can learn about riparian habitats, watersheds, food chains, Chumash and California history, geology, plants and animals.

Moving from our fish passage, along a shaded creek where you can see endangered Southern Steelhead, up the canyon through meadows, fern grottos, oak woodlands, fragrant coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats, there is amazing diversity to explore.

Stop for lunch under Sycamore trees and end the day with a walk through the 1842 historic Ortega adobe with its 18-inch thick walls. We can customize the trip to meet the needs of your curriculum.

Special group projects such as landscape painting and sketching, creative writing, habitat restoration or trail maintenance can also be arranged. Facilities at the Preserve include picnic tables, limited bus parking, portable restrooms, trails and lots of open space to explore. Wheelchair accessibility is very limited. Bilingual tours are available.

We have a limited transportation fund to help low-income schools obtain bus services to the Preserve. Please contact our Volunteer Coordinator Sally Isaacson at (805) 260-2252 or email [email protected] for more information.

To arrange a visit, call John Warner, Preserve Manager at (805) 567-1115 or email him directly at [email protected]

Preserve Management and Scientific Research

The Land Trust will own and operate the Arroyo Hondo Preserve for the foreseeable future. If the Land Trust is ever unable to continue that commitment, the Preserve will be turned over to another conservation organization or agency that will continue to protect it.

A set of Guiding Principles, adopted by the Land Trust, define the goals and priorities for the Preserve. The primary objective is to balance the preservation of the natural and historic resources with opportunities for recreational, educational and scientific purposes.

Five months after the Land Trust acquired the Preserve, graduate students from the UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science &  Management completed a five-year resource management plan. The plan provides interim strategies and long-term recommendations to assist the Land Trust. A geographical information system (GIS) map was created, providing an invaluable tool. The plan was completed at no cost to the Land Trust – an estimated cost savings of over $75,000. The Land Trust thanks the Bren School team, Pete Choi, Bill Sears, Alex Tuttle and Paola Gomez-Priego, and their faculty advisors Sandy Andelman and John Melack. Click here to view or download the plan.

Research happens almost year round at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve. From water quality to plants to fish, there is always someone studying something, a few of which are mentioned below.

UCSB Santa Barbara Channel Long Term Ecological Research Project which focuses on ecological systems at the land-ocean margin and the impacts of human activities at that interface.

• Comprehensive sampling of beetle fauna by the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

• Black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) nesting study by the Santa Barbara Audubon Society (multi-year)

• Biological stream assessments by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

As Arroyo Hondo is one of the few remaining undisturbed watersheds in Southern California, it provides a unique opportunity for ecological and cultural research.