Ultimate Guide to Chumash Painted Cave, California (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
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Chumash Painted Cave is not a typical state park. It is a small historical place that is hidden on a windy road in the Santa Ynez Mountains above the modern city of Santa Barbara.
There is no entrance fee to this cave as steel mesh has been constructed near the entrance to keep it safe from vandals and irresponsible people. The wall of this small cave has some of the most delicate rock art created by the Chumash Native Americans.
Chumash Painted Cave, California
The little cave is filled with preserved art created long before the Chumash tribes met the European settlers. The tribes probably created Rock art in the 1600s, but some experts say they are older.
Interestingly, the Chumash tribes were the first human inhabitants of the Santa Monica Mountains area in California. Some of the archaeological sites connected to the Chumash tribes date back as far as 15,000 years!
History of Chumash Painted Cave
This Cave is on the edge of the traditional Barbareno Chumash territory that extends from the Pacific Coast right up to the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The Chumash were one of the largest tribes in California, and they had a strength of over 15,000 before meeting the Europeans.
Sadly, the Spaniards who were first to the area tried to colonize them and had a mission system set up to convert the “heathens”. The Chumash people were moved from their villages to the Franciscan missions between 1772 and 1817 — soon to be taken over by the Mexicans in 1834. Between the violence and disease, the Chumas people would start to vanish – as they were either forced to work on large Mexican plantations or escaped into the interior.
Their land was rapidly swallowed up by incoming Americans, in fact, the modern city of Santa Barbara, which is at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, was the capital city of Barbareno.
The Chumash reservation, established in 1901, encompasses 127 acres. No native Chumash speak their own language since Ineseño, the last speaker, died in 1965. Today, the Chumash are estimated to have a population of 5,000 members.
The irregularly shaped sandstone cave has several drawings that depict the Chumash cosmology and other subjects in mineral pigments that range from 200 to 1000 years or even more. The colorful symbols are a bright contrast to the sandstone surface of the cave walls.
The exact dates of the paintings are not known, but ceremonial use of the caves was discontinued sometime in the 1700s when it came in contact with the Spanish. Anthropologists believe that the paintings were created in the 1600s or even earlier.
It is assumed that the settlers knew about this cave as the early settlers left behind graffiti near the Indigenous artwork. A metal gate has been installed near the entrance now, and the area has been declared a state park to prevent further damage.
Geological Cave Formations in Chumash Painted Cave
Not many geological formations can be found here, but the honeycombs in the sandstone over the cave entrance would remind you of the same process that one sees in the beach area.
Wildlife in Chumash Painted Cave
The wildlife found here consists of salamanders and insects that are commonly found in other cave systems across the state.
Download our FREE Chumash Painted Cave Guide (Unofficial)
Is Chumash Painted Cave Haunted?
The local legends have tales of ghosts attached to this cave. Apart from orbs, there have been instances of ghostly flute music and ghostly voices recorded on tape. Some people say that the cave was used as a hiding place for a Native American rebel who fought a guerrilla war against the Spanish missionaries before being captured and eventually executed.
It’s no surprise that with their peaceful ways of living were taken from them, they would want to try to stay to protect what they can.
How Big is Chumash Painted Cave?
The Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park is spread over about 7.5 acres.
Chumash Painted Cave Tours
The actual cave at the site is gated off and is right next to the road. A small trail with stone steps leads to the cave, but it has no handrails for balance or support.
So, if you are attempting this, make sure that you are confident, or someone is holding your arm for support. There are no official tours of the cave as the entrance is closed to the public to protect the artwork.
You would need the approval to actually get inside this cave, and I am not sure, at the time of this write-up, who that would be.
I found a book:
Hudson talks a lot about Chumash in his other two books – I am not sure what the contents of this book really are but I ordered it to check it out. You can see it on Amazon here: Guide to Painted Cave.
Chumash Painted Cave Tour Prices and Discounts
There are no tours available here.
Is Chumash Painted Cave Cold?
The inside temperature of the cave is hard to determine as the entrance is closed by a steel mesh. The outside is a bit warm during summers but can get slightly chilly in the winters.
It would depend on how deep the cave is, so you could compare it to other local cave systems.
What to Wear?
Since entry to the cave is closed, one can wear anything in which one feels comfortable.
Chumash Painted Cave Hours
The Park is accessible throughout the year and is open from dawn to dusk.
What to Do at Chumash Painted Cave (Beside Tours)
When you reach the cave site, you will find that a steel mesh protective barrier has been set up that allows the visitors to see the colorful artworks but manages to keep the vandals out. If you have a small camera phone, then you can reach inside the barrier and take photos.
If you have time in hand, you can make a quick trip to More Mesa Beach, around 5 miles away. I will say that is a narrow beach hidden away below the bluffs of More Mesa Park in Santa Barbara. Due to its seclusion, it has a reputation as a clothing-optional beach…you may want to keep that in mind if you are bringing the family.
Best Time to Visit the Cave
The cave is open throughout the year. So, one can come at any point in time, and there is no visitor center or entrance fee. However, there is space for about two to three cars only adjacent to the stairs that lead up to the cave.
How to Get to Chumash Painted Cave
The official address of the cave is a bit vague, but when you put it in Google Maps, it will take you there safely. The location is three miles south of San Marcos pass. One needs to take Highway # 154 out of Santa Barbara and turn on Painted Caves Road.
The cave will be on the left, about two miles up a steep and narrow road. The site can accommodate only a couple of small or mid-sized vehicles; trailers and RVs are not fit for the road.
Hotels Near Chumash Painted Cave
Visiting the Cave
Do you need more information before visiting Chumash Painted Caves? Call (805) 733 – 3713 or email the California Department of Parks and Recreation for an information packet.
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