Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park – A nice sidetrip off Highway 154

Chumash Painted Cave State Park sign

Chumash Painted Cave State Park

The Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is on a side road off a side road. It’s an excursion into the pre-history of Central California and worth a stop. It also comes with some warnings before turning onto Painted Cave Road.

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is located in the Santa Ynez Mountains situated between the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara. Painted Cave Road at its southern end can be accessed directly off Highway 154 and it loops around to Camino Cielo and then to the 154 at the north end.

The main attraction is the cave paintings done by the Chumash several centuries ago. The accessible (accessible by the able bodied) part of the park is tiny and is located right off the road. There are no restrooms or any other amenities and barely any parking. The already narrow road widens just a bit near the park and there is room for two or three small cars. I had to park about 1/4 mile up the road and walk back when I was there.

The narrow road at Chumash Painted Cave

The narrowness of Painted Cave Road

I am pointing all this out, and what will follow, not to dissuade you from seeing this interesting site, but rather to keep you from some real problems. It is worth the trip and the vistas at the southern end out over Santa Barbara and the ocean are spectacular.

However, if you are driving anything other than a small to mid-size car, I would recommend that you NOT take this road. Now there are a number of residences up there and obviously construction vehicles and now delivery vehicles pass through here. But it is very narrow and with tight corners and would be quite difficult with large cars or trucks.

Very narrow passage on Painted Cave Road

Boulder overhanging Painted Cave Road

This boulder is really the clincher. I wish I had someone in the photo to provide perspective, but keep in mind that the road here is barely 10′ wide so you get an idea how narrow this passage is. If you have a large truck or an RV of ANY class, you’ll never make it. If you are towing anything, don’t go here! You couldn’t make this narrow defile and then there’s really no where to back up and turn around! It would be a mess.

If you are absolutely committed to seeing this attraction and have a large RV with a smaller “towed” vehicle – here’s how you can do it:

  1. Exit Highway 154 at Camino Cielo and head east. If I recall correctly, there are some turnouts close to the 154 there. Pull into the earliest one.
  2. Unhook your “toad” and proceed east on Camino Cielo and turn Right at Painted Cave Road.
  3. Proceed approximately 1.25 miles to the park (It will be on your right.

Ocean and Santa Barbara vista from Painted Cave Road

Vista of Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Island from Painted Cave Road

As I mentioned, better to know ahead of time than to be stuck.

Once you do make it to the Painted Cave, it’s just a few steps from the roadway up to the cave itself. It has a grate at the entrance in order to protect the paintings from further defacement, but there are two openings through which you can take photos.

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

GPS coordinates: 34.5044, -119.7877

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Phone: (805) 733-3713

Grate over the Painted Cave

The viewing area at the Chumash Painted Cave

This is where you will get to see what you came here for. Remember, it’s definitely NOT ADA accessible, but still, just a few steps up from the road.

I don’t know much about geology, but the “honeycomb” in the rocks reminds me of the same sort of process that you see at many beaches.

Paintings inside the Chumash Cave

Finally! The paintings!

Scientists estimate that the paintings were made sometime around 400 years ago. I imagine they do this by studying the pigments and carbon dating. The meaning of the symbols has been lost over the years, but it would be safe to guess that there was a religious significance. One of the symbols is taken to represent a solar eclipse, whose date astronomers would know. Beyond that, it’s enjoyable to look at them and reflect on man’s universal desire to understand and come to terms with the world around him.

Chumash Painted Cave

A wider view of the paintings in the sandstone cave

Chumash Painted Cave

Honeycombing in the sandstone over the cave entrance

The steepness of the southern end of Painted Cave Road

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