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!
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!