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La Purísima Mission State Historic Park

El Camino Real Trail
2 to 5 miles or more round trip

Of California’s 21 missions, the most fully restored is La Purísima, located 4 miles north of Lompoc in northwest Santa Barbara County. La Purísima is the only mission with a sizeable amount of land preserved around it—and the only one with hiking trails.

You could spend a fun day at La Purísima Mission State Historic Park in the Lompoc Valley—first heading for the Purisima Hills for a hike, then touring the mission. If you plan your visit for one of the park’s “Mission Life Days” or “Purísima People Days,” you’ll find volunteer docents costumed as padres, soldiers and Indians and recreating mission life of the 1820s. Members of the volunteer group Prelado De Los Tesoros (Keeper of the Treasures) act out their parts well.

Wandering the thousand acres of hill and dale preserved in the state park will help you grasp that apart from the mission’s religious purpose, it was a large commercial enterprise as well—early 19th-century agribusiness. You’ll walk where crops were grown and cattle grazed, view the mission’s far-flung waterworks system, and even see the ruts that are reminders of where the old El Camino Real passed through the mission compound.

Following secularization of the mission system, La Purísima was abandoned in 1834 and soon fell into ruin. In 1934, exactly 100 years after the padres left, the Civilian Conservation Corps began reconstructing the church and a whole complex of buildings. Other restoration projects continued intermittently ever since, and today La Purísima is the most completely restored of California’s 21 missions.

Besides the church, you’ll see the soldiers’ barracks and the priests’ quarters. On the mission grounds are reconstructions of the granary, bakery, olive press and soap factory. Pens and corrals hold Mexican sheep and cattle, similar to the breeds of the mission period. At the mission entrance is a small museum which displays historical information and artifacts recovered from the mission ruins. In a shady grove near the museum is a picnic ground.

The park trail system explores three different ecosystems. Los Berros Creek flows north-south through Purisima Canyon. West of Purisima Canyon is a large oak-dotted mesa that rises a hundred feet above the canyon floor. East of Purisima Canyon are the stream-cut Purisima Hills.

Local joggers and exercise walkers stick to the park’s flatlands by joining El Camino Real, then rounding the barley fields and returning via Las Zanjas Trail. That’s a circuit of about 3 miles. Hikers often use the narrower footpaths— Huerta Mateo and Mesa Arenosa Trails—and make a 2 mile loop. Add the 2 mile loop and the 3 mile together for a fine 5 mile hike.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101 in Buellton, exit on Highway 246 and head west 13.5 miles to Mission State Historic Park on your right. Limited free parking is available near the trailhead alongside Purisima Road or inside the park closer to the mission buildings (fee).

The hike:
From Purisima Road, join La Rancheria Trail to the park museum, walk toward the picnic area, then join paved El Camino Real to signed Huerta Mateo Trail. This footpath leads over sandy terrain. Thriving in the sandy soil is coastal scrub vegetation that normally grows only on dune systems much closer to the coast. Occupying the slopes and ridge crests nearby is a flourishing oak woodland.

Stick with Huerta Mateo Trail past several signed junctions until you reach Cucillo de Tierra, a fire road. Turn left and walk a short quarter mile to signed Mesa Arenosa Trail. Down you go along this sandy trail until you reach a signed junction with Las Canerias Trail; join this path heading west
0.25 mile to wide Cucillo de Tierra Trail. You can turn right here and head back to the mission buildings; however, those hikers wishing to see more the backcountry will turn left (north) and walk 0.4 mile to El Chaparral Trail, which provides a short connecting route to El Camino Real. Turn left and walk along the flat bottomland of Purisima Canyon, which has been cultivated since the construction of the mission and today supports an annual crop of wheat and barley.

El Camino Real runs out at the park boundary and you turn right (east) on Last Zanjas Trail. This path offers a lovely walk near Los Berros Creek. You’ll pass a pond and portions of the old mission aqueduct as you enjoy the 1.25 mile walk back to the mission compound and the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at