Manzana Creek Trail to Manzana Schoolhouse
Los Padres National Forest
Highlights: The hike to Manzana Schoolhouse is a moderate backpack of 8½ miles (one-way) in the San Rafael Wilderness that follows Manzana Creek to a historic site, with rusting farm equipment and old cabins. Oak and alders provide nice campsites along the creek, whereas manzanita, digger pines, and yuccas grace the hillsides. The many creek crossings required during the wet season make this an adventurous winter or spring backpack.
Directions: The drive takes 2½-3 hours from Bakersfield. Call 805-967-3481 for USFS road conditions.
- Follow Highway 119 for 40 miles through Taft to Maricopa, then take Highway 166 up into the hills another 80 or so miles to Santa Maria.
- Turn south on Highway 101 and continue about 30 miles to Highway 154.
- Continue southeast on 154 about 3 miles to Los Olivos, and then another 5 or 6 miles to an unmarked left turn (east) on Armour Ranch Road, which is opposite a marked turn to Solvang.
- After 2 or 3 miles, turn left (east) on Happy Canyon Road (County Road 3350).
- Follow Happy Canyon Road, which is mostly paved, past Cachuma Campground at 11.4 miles, and continue to an intersection with a dirt road at the abandoned Cachuma Saddle Guard Station at 13.6 miles.
- Continue straight ahead on paved road (Forest Road 8N09) towards NIRA Campground, passing Davy Brown Campground at 17.4 miles.
- Drive past Davy Brown and over two creek crossings, parking just after the second crossing 22.4 miles from Armour Ranch Road, and about ½ mile before reaching NIRA Campground. The trailhead is back across the river at a sign marking the San Rafael Wilderness.
An alternate route from Ventura follows Highway 101 north to Santa Barbara, takes the Lake Cachuma-Highway 154 exit on the far side of town, and follows signs to Highway 154. Head into the mountains on 154, over San Marcos Pass, and continue past Lake Cachuma. Just after crossing the Santa Ynez River on a concrete bridge, and 22.4 miles from Highway 101, turn right on Armour Ranch Road. After 1.3 miles turn right on Happy Canyon Road and follow the directions above (bullet 5).
Trailhead: The trail begins on the south side of Manzana Creek and parallels the creek for a little over 1 mile to Potrero (Coldwater) Camp. Cross the creek to the north side to a trail junction, with Manazana Creek Trail to the left and Portrero/Hurricane Deck Trail to the right. Here there is a choice between high or low trails on Manzana Creek.
About 2½ miles from trailhead, there is a nice camp under an oak tree, with an outhouse hidden in the brush. Around 5 miles from trailhead, look for a junction. Stay on the trail that leads right, and do not take the dirt road that leads left. At 6 miles, there is some old, rusty farm equipment on the left and another junction. Stay right again and cross the creek. Dabney Cabin is reached 7 miles from trailhead, and gas an outhouse up the hill behind the cabin. Continue another 1½ miles to Manzana Schoolhouse at the junction of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. There are outhouses and picnic tables at the campsite.
- The low trail is the recommended route, but requires many creek crossings. It goes left at the trail junction and stays next to the river bed.
- The high trail has fewer creek crossings, but is plagued by landslides and bushwacking. It goes right at the trail junction onto Potrero Trail and takes an immediate left on an unmarked, easily missed turnoff. After a mile or two, the high and low trails merge.
Maps: Bald Mountain and Zaca Lake 7½-minute topographic quadrangles
- Depending on water level and your ingenuity, there can be up to 30-40 creek crossings to reach the schoolhouse. In summer and fall, this is no big deal. In spring and winter, wear shorts and Teva-style sandals (or an extra pair of tennis shoes) for the creek crossings. There are many of them and you will get wet.
- Giardia is a concern and a water purifier is needed.
- U.S. Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5/day or $30 annual) and California fire permit (free) are required and can be obtained at any Ranger Station, or at Big 5 Sporting Goods in Bakersfield.
- Manzanita is Spanish for "little apple", and may be the source for the name Manzana.
- The Manzana Schoolhouse was built in 1893, and opened the next year, to serve a community of nearly 200 religious fundamentalists from Kansas trying to eke out a living on 20 homesteads. The school closed in 1902, after drought and land ill suited for grazing and farming had driven most of the settlers away.
- The fundamentalists who settled Manzana Creek were followers of Hiram Preserved Wheat, a spiritualist said to have had the power to heal with his hands.
- The Dabney Cabin, which was built by Charles Dabney on Manzana Creek in 1913, is leased by the Sierra Club.
- The high ridge to the north is the Hurricane Deck, a famous local landmark, and a grueling 18- to 24-mile hike that starts up the Manzana Narrows trail and finishes via the Manzana Schoolhouse trail.