Knapp's Castle (currently closed to visitors), in the mountains above Santa Barbara, on a plot of privately-owned land surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, is a popular place because of its intriguing look and incredible view of the Santa Ynez Valley and backcountry. Locals and tourists from all over the world travel to this unique vista. On that land stand the remains of a grand estate that burned down, leaving only a stone structure reminiscent of a castle.
The property has 360-degree views and a long history; the original footings go back to the 1880's. The property was once owned by George Owen Knapp who was one of the founders of Union Carbide Company which resulted from the mergers of Electro Gas, People’s Gas Light, and Lake Superior Carbide in 1898. Union Carbide is now part of The Dow Chemical Company. Knapp, built what is now called Knapp's Castle shortly after purchasing the 160-acre parcel in 1916 and the site was home to a 3-story hunting lodge, an observation tower, houses for guests, servants and caretakers, a pool and a cider mill near the apple orchard down the mountain.
In 1940, the property was purchased by Frances Holden. Tragically, the mansion was destroyed by a forest fire only five weeks later. Just the massive sandstone foundations, fireplace pillars and walls of the original seven structures remain intact.
The land remained in ruins since the 1940 fire but was purchased in recent years and construction of a tea house has begun. Stone by stone, owner Cal Smith, an expert in historic landmark preservation, is working with his crew to restore the site to its former glory. Work on restoring the lodge has begun but at such a very slow pace it might never be completed. That is okay with many who go there because the dilapidated structure is a fun part of the Knapp's Castle experience, especially to children.
The hike to Knapp's Castle is a 3/4 mile round trip hike with only a 50 feet of elevation change. The majestic views from this unique spot will quickly make it one of your favorite places in the area. Knapp's Castle is best viewed near sunset when the valley below is filled with a golden glow but any time of day is sure to be rewarding. Knapp's Castle is a frequent escape for locals when Santa Barbara is foggy (usually May and June) because the mountain top is usually above the clouds with a spectacular view of a non-foggy backcountry.
To drive to Knapp's Castle exit the U.S. 101 Freeway at Highway 154 and then turn east on Camino Cielo Road at the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. After three miles (one mile past Painted Cave Road) you will see cars parked near a gate (on your left) which marks the start of the hike. The official name of the dirt road that you hike on to Knapp's Castle is the Freemount Fuel Break.