Strangely Awesome: Knapp’s Castle

Perched high upon a ridge in the Santa Ynez Mountains, George Owen Knapp began his escape from his reoccurring bouts with hay fever by building a mountain lodge, overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley. Four years later, the former Chairman of Union Carbide found relief when the mountain home of his dreams was completed. Naming his mountain home “Laurel Springs”, Knapp’s Castle, carved from thick sandstone blocks, boasted five bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room, and an observatory for stargazing. It was a magnificent residence, complete with illuminated waterfalls and a room housing one of Knapp’s other passions – a huge pipe organ. Aside the main lodge, and attached by an interior staircase, sat a studio. Below this there was a cottage for workers, a guesthouse, sleeping quarters for servants and a caretaker’s flat.

George Knapp continued to live in the opulent mansion until 1940, selling it to Frances Holden. Barely five weeks after purchasing Knapp’s Castle, a fire raged through the mountainside and the grounds, utterly destroying everything, leaving nothing but the stone skeleton of the structure. With several pieces of the estate remaining, Knapp’s Castle has become popular with photographers and hikers alike.   

Getting to Knapp’s Castle is quite easy, as the upper part of the trail, once the estate’s long drive way to the mansion, offers a short and easy trek down to the ruins from the public road. And while the land is still private property, the current owner has made efforts to keep the ruins stable and safe, and allows public access to the property. The trailhead is marked by a rusted Forest Service gate, approximately 3 miles down East Camino Cielo. You will find a small pull off point along the road to park.

Stone walls, part of the foundation and a couple of chimneys are all that remain of Knapp’s Castle. Large stone arches still frame the incredible views of the Santa Barbara backcountry that were enjoyed long ago in the main room of the home through huge picture windows. The ruins of Knapp’s Castle offer views of the Santa Ynez River, Cachuma Lake and the Pacific Ocean. And to the north you can take in panoramic views of Mt. Pinos and Figueroa Mountain even the Casmalia Hills.                            

The views particularly incredible if you arrive at sunset and watch the purple shadows skim over the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains. It’s breathtaking!

Here are few tips when exploring Knapp’s Castle in the sky:

1. Knapp’s Castle is a secluded place, but with a recent boost in popularity, you may find a few people on the trail with you. Remember that permission to be on the property is granted by the owners, so be respectful of the property, and don’t forget to pack out what you pack in.

2. While you can barely call the trail to Knapp’s Castle a hike, it is up in the mountains, where cell reception is spotty or non existent. Make sure you tell people where you’re going and leave a note in your car, just to be safe.

3. Dress in layers. With the winds and elevation, the temperature can drop suddenly. Bring sunscreen and plenty of water, especially since there isn’t much overhead cover.
4. There is no specific address to Knapp’s Castle. You can get to Knapp’s Castle by following the directions below.

From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on Highway 154 and proceed 8 miles to East Camino Cielo. Turn right and drive 2.9 miles to a saddle, where you’ll spot a parking area and a locked Forest Service gate.

5. Above all, have fun! Bring your camera, as you will have many opportunities for pictures!


Center map

47 thoughts on “Strangely Awesome: Knapp’s Castle

  1. Presenting the history of the castle really made it come alive for me. It looks like an amazing place for photographs and my kids would really enjoy exploring the grounds.

  2. No questions why he decided to make a home there, it looks gorgeous. Shame it got burnt down, but looking at whats left I can imagine a beautiful place to stay. Those sun shots are stunning!

  3. Stunning Photographs of an amazing landscape. It looks like you went there on a picture perfect day. I love the fact that the current owner allows access to the ruins. I hope people treat the property with respect and it stays that way!

  4. A remarkable setting for ruins. It is like castle’s we have visited mountaintop ruins make great photographs. The people who built this sure would have had great views from this position and by the sounds of it a great life with servants and grounds keepers

  5. What a unique spot… I’ve never even heard of Knapp’s Castle! Such incredible views – the landscape surrounding the castle is stunning. I’d love to visit and especially at sunset.

  6. So terrible to hear about the fire as the building sounds like it was a true work of art but nonetheless, your photos are great and the walk there sounds like a refreshing one!

  7. This is one of my absolute favorite areas of California – my best friend lives up the 101 a bit (near Lompoc) so I get to visit the area frequently. BUT, I’ve never heard of Knapp’s Castle – how is that possible?!?! What a tragic and interesting story! I am trying to plan my next trip out to visit the area, so I will mention this as a great afternoon trip, once we’ve had our fill of amazing little wineries and SB! Cheers.

  8. Love the photos! The castle looks surreal, such a majestic place, surrounded by green mountains and blue sky. I´m sure the sunsets there are memorable, Thanks for sharing such a hidden gem.

  9. That would be upsetting, buying a place and then having a wild fire take it out five weeks later. Sounds like you’d want to be in a car and not a small RV with the parking situation. Really nice photo of the sunset through the arches.

  10. The views on top look amazing. Great place to hike a bit and take lots of photos. It’s quite amazing that there’s still a lot left of the ruins. Thanks for sharing!

  11. What a great story, though with a tragic end. The photos and views look amazing. I imagine it is quite a great place to hike. Will keep it mind for the next time we are in the Santa Barbara area. Cheers.

  12. Looks like a great place to explore, the ruins look really well preserved. Will be out that way this year, may have to check it out, thanks

  13. I admit I only found out about this castle now. But it looks like a great place to discover – as I do love going to castles and palaces! Oh, and I cannot say how much I love the phots! Great angles and colors!

  14. I love this area of California. I have spent a lot of time outside Lompoc on a friend’s cattle ranch, and done some great hiking through her property. I have never made it up to Knapp’s Castle though, so I need to check that out next time. I can reward myself with a nice lunch on State Street in Santa Barbara!

  15. That must have been an amazing home to live in. It’s too bad that it was all destroyed 🙁 However, it definitely seems like a nice trip, and the photos you took of it speak for themselves. And who doesn’t want to experience the sunset with such an amazing scenery?

  16. Great suggestion, I’ll definitely keep it in mind. Somehow, I figured Germany the number one country in the world for old castles and ruins, but this one looks amazing, too!

  17. I can see why he built his castle there. It is really a beautiful area. Also, I can see why photographers love it. You have captured some really great photos of Knapp’s Castle. I only wish the fire did not burn it down. I could just imagine how beautiful it would have been today.

  18. I love places that have a history and often go to ruins. The view from Knapp’s Castle looks amazing. What a great place to hike. Thanks for sharing this place

  19. This looks like an awesome hike, thank you for sharing it! My husband went to college in Santa Barbara, so whenever we’re back in California we like to visit that area and usually end up going on a hike or camping. Definitely adding this to our list for next time!

  20. I’m still learning from you, while I’m trying to reach my goals.
    I definitely love reading everything that is written on your
    blog.Keep the information coming. I enjoyed it!

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