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A view

One of the Midland School Ranch trails winds down a hill.

Luis Escobar/Contributed

Made possible through grants by Brett and Natalie Hodges, and with the cooperation of ranch manager Ben Munger, the Midland School Ranch Trails are now open to the public.

Located about four miles north and east of Los Olivos on Figueroa Mountain Road, this new trail network is the latest creation of Raymond Ford Jr. and members of the Santa Barbara Trails Council.

The nearly 10 miles of trail are open to the public, however they are located on the Midland School private property and a permit is required for day use. Access to the property and permits are free and available at the Midland School, 5100 Figueroa Mountain Road. The permits are located outside of the school office in a decorative box hand painted with the words “Hiking Permits.”

There are four trails listed on the Santa Barbara Trail Council Pocket Guide to the Midland School trails. Grass Mountain, Maple Canyon, High Country Trail and Lover's Loop. Difficult levels range from easy/moderate to hard core!

On Figueroa Mountain Road, there are two entry points for the trail system. The first point is the "Green Gate" trailhead and is located at the eastern edge of Neverland Ranch, once owned by Michael Jackson. With its wide parking area, Green Gate is the best used as the equestrian staging area. The second entry point is one mile further east, just after the Birabent Creek bridge.

Last week Beverly and I hiked the entire 3.6 mile Lover's Loop, which starts at the Birabent Creek entry point. The start of this moderately strenuous hike rolls through a beautifully covered oak woodland. This time of year the grass is bright green and the soil is dark and moist. Orange mushrooms grow on the ground and red tail hawks quietly circle above. It is an easy climb to the trail summit, total elevation gain is just under 700 feet. From the open summit the trail quickly descends to the Birabent Creek drainage. The trail then follows the creek through groves of sycamores and native willows.

The Midland School property is a working cattle ranch and there are plenty of cattle to be found grazing along the trail. As discovered in several other public open space trail systems, the Midland Ranch is a fine example of how recreational trail users are able to coexist peacefully with cattle.

The Lover's Loop hike ends where it began, at the Birabent Creek Trailhead on Figueroa Mountain Road. From there it is about a 30 minute drive back to downtown Santa Maria.

Our winter hike at the Midland School Ranch was wonderful and I am looking forward to going back to explore another trail sometime soon. The ultimate Midland Ranch trail experience is a springtime hike up to Grass Mountain. The area is world famous for its springtime wildflowers. With the poppies and lupine in blossom the spectacular views, color and amazing scents make the Midland School trail a must do on the Central Coast.

For more information contact Midland School Office at (805) 688-5114 or visit the Santa Barbara Trails Council website

Until then, get out there and experience our beautiful Central Coast. Remember, when out on the trails enjoy them, share them and leave as little trace as possible.