IMPORTANT NOTICE: Date: 11 November 2013 - I've been getting a lot of downloads of this guide, and I feel obligated to point out that... more », because of the low rainfall of the last two years, I can't imagine that there's more than a few stagnant pools at the site, if that. I have not been there recently to verify this, so if someone does make the trek, it would be useful to comment on the state of the water flow to help others decide if they want to take this trip. Let's hope for a wet 2013-14 rain season.
This is one of the more spectacular destinations in the Los Padres, and to top it off, it's only a moderately difficult 2.7-mile hike (5.4 miles roundtrip). From the trailhead, you have an early elevation gain of 120 feet, followed by a 720-foot drop to the final destination. Keep in mind the return uphill climb, if the temperature is high, as it often is in the backcountry. The majority of the trail passes through chaparral and a few scattered live oak, but offers some great mountain vistas.
It's 2.2 miles from the trailhead to where the trail empties into Tar Creek. As you make the final descent to the creek, you will come to a slightly treacherous spot where the trail has been eroded. The actual trail continues diagonally down the side of the canyon, but many people now take the washed out and steep short cut to the left. As a side note, if you have any idea of taking the trail that goes to the Sespe Creek, it continues opposite Tar Creek where the actual trail comes down, so if you take the short cut, you may miss it. Be warned that the trail to the Sespe is overgrown in places and necessitates negotiating around a landslide. For this hike, you don't need to worry about that.
Once you arrive at Tar Creek, you have about a half mile (less if you take the shortcut) to the first pools and falls. There is no trail for this portion of the trip, though you can usually spot where others have walked. You'll be rock-hopping and working your way through bushes, but it's not too difficult. There is probably more than one way to go. Your challenge will be to find the easiest.
You'll know when you have reached the destination. There are three gorgeous deep pools in series, with two waterfalls and a natural water slide. Each pool affords several perches on the rocks from which to jump. You can start at the top and work your way to the last pool. If you have tender feet, you should consider wearing some old shoes, as the climb back up, especially from pool 2 to pool 1 is a little difficult.
That's the end of this hike, though if you are adventurous, I have heard that there is a second falls and pool further downstream, but I'm not advocating that because I have not done it. I think most people will be quite satisfied with the first destination. It really is incredible. less «