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Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road Climb


If you like to climb, you need to find your way to Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara arguably has the most easily accessible, tough and scenic climbs in southern California. I’ve already written about the Old San Marcos/Painted Cave climb – one of the toughest around – so now it is time to tackle Gibraltar Road.

To start, you have a couple of options. You can start at Tuckers Grove Park and give yourself a few miles of warm up. You can also start at the Santa Barbara Mission and give yourself no warm up. Either works for a starting location, but I would recommend Tuckers Grove – this gives you some rolling hills to warm up with and lets you finish with a great descent. If you start at the Mission you will climb immediately and finish with rolling hills. Anyway, the rest of this assumes you start at Tuckers Grove.

From Tuckers Grove, you head east on Cathedral Oaks. After passing 154/San Marcos Pass Road, Cathedral Oaks turns into Foothill Road/192. This whole time you will be climbing and descending – this is some rather rolling terrain. A couple of miles further and you turn right onto Mission Canyon Road. Pass by Rocky Nook Park on your left. Right after, turn left onto Mountain Drive. If you were to ride a bit farther on Mission Canyon you would see Mission Santa Barbara (definitely worth visiting – it is one of the most beautiful California missions). As soon as you turn onto Mountain, the real climbing begins:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

This section of Mountain is pretty cool with an impressive rock wall spanning much of the length on the right side. After about a mile you will join up with Foothill/192. About 3/10s of a mile later you will turn left to stay on Mountain while 192 continues on to the right. This left turn is right before/at Sheffield Reservoir. Take a breather here and rehydrate as the climbing is unforgiving from this point forward. From here, ride a few hundred feet up before coming to a 4 way intersection. The left will take you along Las Canoas – a wonderful, albeit short, road to ride. To the right Mountain Drive continues along – also quite worthy of riding – lots of rolling hills with some decent climbs and amazing scenery along the way (if you have some extra time I would highly recommend exploring it). The middle choice, however, is your choice for today. This is the start of Gibraltar Road. The next 6.5 miles will give you almost 2600 feet of climbing with few breaks (your breaks will basically be sections that are not quite as steep as the surrounding sections). Anyway, the very start of Gibraltar:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Shortly after this section you pass by El Cielito Road – from this point on you do not pass another intersection until finishing the climb at Camino Cielo Road. Right after El Cielito:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Still some green on the hills from all the rains last season:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Lots of other cyclists on the road today:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

A panorama from this section:

From HQ Panoramas

Make sure to click on the link to see the higher resolution version. From there you can click the Download tab and choose Download Photo if you would like to download the full size, original version of the panorama (8271×2670 pixels in size…so yeah, pretty large).

Some more of the scenery you pass:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Riding straight up into the sky:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Twisting, curving asphalt winding its way up some rugged hills:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

A bit farther up and you get a nice panorama of what has just been climbed:

From HQ Panoramas

Again, click on the image for a larger version and the option of downloading the original image (11,038×2493 pixels in this case).

This bottom half or so is the easier section of Gibraltar, I should mention. By easier, I simply mean that it isn’t as brutal as the second half. Here, you might just be able to stay out of your granny gear and push it a bit. Just don’t kill yourself pushing on the bottom half as you will need some reserve energy for the top half.

Nearing the bend that divides the easier bottom section and the tougher top section:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Panorama at the bend:

From HQ Panoramas

(Again, click for larger image).

Take a break here if you want as the climbing only gets tougher from here. Continuing up, you again head straight into the sky:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Having been burned by fire relatively recently, you still have a stark contrast between the older, completely burnt plants and the newer, healthy, green growth:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Steep, but fun and scenic:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

The road surface starts getting a bit funky – but, what a scene to ride through:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Looking back on the twisty section just climbed:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

And yes, that twisty section is pretty steep. You’ll likely be breathing somewhat hard by this point.

Such scenery:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

A bit later and you encounter one of the most visually impressive sections:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

This massive rock section is also home to some sweet rock climbing. The climbers were out in force today:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Not a bad backdrop for climbing either! Requisite shot of the bike leaning against the ever-present (in Santa Barbara) and beautiful Manzanita trees:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

After passing by the climbing rock, you will encounter a brief respite leading to Flores Flat. Enjoy this easy section as it doesn’t last long. Just as you catch your breath you hit Flores Flat and start climbing once again:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

This is a rather interesting community – one of only two communities in the Santa Ynez Mountains that overlooks Santa Barbara (Painted Cave being the more famous and populous community). Flores Flat barely escaped destruction in the 2009 Jesusita Fire. Anyway, it is home to a small number of residences and a few businesses (a pottery business at the very least if I remember correctly). Right after the inhabited area, you get to climb one of the steepest sections along Gibraltar:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Heading up the steep stuff:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

As you finish this torturous section, you get a brief respite in this patchwork of asphalt:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

See, you will smile when you hit this brief easy section. Unfortunately for you, the grade kicks up quite a bit after the next bend and taunts you endlessly until you hit East Camino Cielo (luckily, not too much further).

Steep…and sucky asphalt to boot!

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

If you make it this far and hit the intersection with E Camino Cielo, congratulations! Gibraltar is by no means an easy climb and you should pat yourself on the back for having completed it. Or, if patting yourself on the back feeds your ego too much, you can go and reward yourself with a beer at Hollister Brewing Company. You have, at the very least, earned yourself that. By the way, Hollister makes some astounding IPAs if you like your beers bitter. I jump ahead of myself though. You do still have some more riding to do. Thankfully, this is easy compared to what was just completed.

This next section is optional, but highly recommended. Turn sharp right onto East Camino Cielo and climb (at a much easier grade) for less than 1 mile through some gorgeous scenery:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Nice views of the section of Gibraltar that you just suffered through:

From HQ Panoramas

Again, click on image for larger size.

As you approach the final eastern viewpoint on this ride you are greeted by a seriously beautiful section of road:

From HQ Panoramas

This one is definitely worth clicking on for the higher res version. Downloading it will get you the 7122×2466 pixel original – quite nice if I do say so myself.

This quickly leads to your inland vantage point:

From HQ Panoramas

Such incredible mountains! And yes, again, click on that for the bigger version. At this point you can continue along Camino Cielo. This will give you about 6 miles of rolling hills that generally tilt downwards. To be honest, I haven’t ridden most of this section, but I plan to at some point. It is supposed to be nice. Up to you if you want to add this on to your ride!

Anyway, head back west and you quickly come back down to the intersection of Camino Cielo and Gibraltar. Continue descending west along Camino Cielo and enjoy the fact that you are descending. Sadly, this doesn’t last all that long and you climb again:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Fighting their way up the last section to La Cumbre Peak:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Almost there:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

La Cumbre Peak:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

La Cumbre Peak tops out at 3,995 feet and offers some nice views:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

And one happy cyclist for having completed the climb:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Leaving La Cumbre, a quick descent followed by a quick ascent:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Top of this ascent:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Finally, time to really start descending:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

You’ll pass a shooting range after a little while:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

And you’ll also get your last climb here:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Of course, when you are climbing through scenery like that, the climbing suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

It would seem someone landscaped this section:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Nature can be pretty cool.

Almost to the top of this climb:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Just after starting the descent:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Seriously. Could this be a nicer descent?

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Maybe, but this is pretty tough to beat. A flat section along the descent:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

People parked for Knapp’s Castle:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Knapp’s Castle is definitely worth checking out. From this parking area it is a very short hike to the remains of the residence. Knapp’s Castle was built in the early 1900s but was destroyed by wildfire in 1940. See the wikipedia page for more information and some pictures. A few miles more and you will come to the junction of E Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road. The most common route is to descend down Painted Cave and connect directly to Old San Marcos. While this is an interesting descent as you can stop by at Painted Cave State Historic Park:

From 2009-12-25 – Goleta – Christmas – Old San Marcos & Painted Cave Cycling
From 2009-12-25 – Goleta – Christmas – Old San Marcos & Painted Cave Cycling

and you can get a few fun turns in:

From 2010-02-12 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road Cycling

I would recommend considering skipping Painted Cave (although I highly recommend it for ascending as it is a very tough climb). Skipping it is as easy as continuing on E Camino Cielo at the intersection with Painted Cave. This is actually a really fun descent – while Painted Cave is mostly in poor condition with regards to paving, most of Camino Cielo from here to 154 is either very freshly paved or semi-recently paved. This makes for a wonderful descent:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Nice:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling
From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Seriously. That is beautiful.

The one tight switchback on this descent:

From HQ Panoramas

(Again, click for a bigger version). Aside from this switchback and 1 or 2 other turns, you don’t even need to hit your brakes on this descent. Great pavement, sweeping turns, pleasant grade – perfect recipe for a great descent. Honestly, this was way more fun than descending down Painted Cave. While I don’t mind Painted Cave, it does involve lots of horrible paving (tons of bumps and potholes) and lots of braking (super steep and tight curves). If you do Painted Cave, be careful – brake fade is an issue. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the descent to 154:

From 2010-05-31 – Santa Barbara – Gibraltar Road & E Camino Cielo Cycling

Turn left and descend for a couple of miles until turning right onto Old San Marcos Pass Road. This section along 154 will be filled with high speed traffic (50+ mph) but can be fun as it is not hard to break 40mph. Once you turn onto Old San Marcos you will have a most excellent descent. The first part is rather steep and will require some braking for the switchbacks:

From HQ Panoramas

But is quite beautiful:

From 2010-05-09 – 1 – Old San Marcos Pass Cycling

After descending the two tight switchbacks, the rest of the descent is fast, fun and scenic…and requires very little braking once you get to know the curves. Averaging 30mph down (even with the slower top section) is definitely doable – and really, really fun. Also, near the bottom, pedal a bit and you will break 40mph. This is one awesome descent with a road surface in almost perfect condition (the biggest problem is the occasional spot of road debris – small pebbles/rocks and the like – just keep an eye out for those rare sections). By the way, the last mile can absolutely be done at a minimum speed of 35mph. Enjoy.

Once you run out your awesome descent, turn left onto Cathedral Oaks and pedal a quarter of mile back to Tuckers Grove Park and complete your ride. And yeah, go and treat yourself to a burger, fries and beer at Hollister as you have earned it. If you don’t care about the beer, The Habit in old town Goleta makes some awesome chili burgers (and is much cheaper than Hollister).

Here is the full route map for this ride:

And here is the route map for the Gibraltar climb section:

Check out the elevation profile on that one – the Gibraltar section averages about 7.5%. Not bad considering it only gets progressively harder the further you go up!

Cheers!

The Discussion

see what everyone is saying

  • […] area (6-8k+ for some), they do provide for some very stout climbing. Old San Marcos/Painted Cave, Gibraltar and Figueroa Mountain are three of the toughest, most scenic climbs around. Refugio Road ranks […]

  • the turtle July 4th, 2010 at 12:43 pm #2

    I haven’t done Gibraltar yet. I’ve done Old San Marcos and Painted Cave. I met a bicyclist yesterday on the Pass, her name is Madeline. SHe called me The Turtle ‘cuz I am slow but steady.

  • rallison July 7th, 2010 at 12:25 am #3

    Hi turtle and welcome to Tough Ascent! Slow and steady is better than blowing up before you get to the top of the climb, so no shame in going slow. For me, sometimes I like to hammer up a climb. Other times, it is nice to take it slow and just enjoy the scenery as the elevation numbers tick upwards. Anyway, I hope you get a chance to try Gibraltar soon before it gets really hot and before all the green disappears.

  • Carmen September 30th, 2010 at 9:53 pm #4

    Absolutely nothing wrong with slow and steady. Not only do you get there, but you get to enjoy the scenery along the way!

  • Nancy October 1st, 2010 at 9:27 pm #5

    One day maybe I too can do that ride….very impressive Carmen!

  • heather October 4th, 2010 at 4:44 pm #6

    Love your photos. When I lived in Santa Barbara, Gibraltar was absolutely my favorite ride. I now live in Ojai and climb to Rose Valley or Lake Casitas. Yesterday, I stumbled upon Sulphur Mountain Road! I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, but managed to claw my way up. I was going slow enough that a cloud of gnats tormented me the entire climb. I found your site looking up that ride today. What a great site with excellent information, photos, maps, etc. Thanks for collecting the info for these rides. See you on the road!

  • rallison October 6th, 2010 at 10:20 pm #7

    Gibraltar is an amazing climb. Sulphur Mountain is quite the unknown climb it would seem. And, given the grade, it is a rather slow climb. Great climb though. Glad you enjoyed reading through my ride reports. Happy riding!

  • rallison October 6th, 2010 at 10:23 pm #8

    Given what Carmen has said about you, I’m sure you could get up to that level in no time.

  • Jason July 9th, 2012 at 1:56 pm #9

    Just did this one. Much better than going down Gibraltar! Nice ride and thanks again for the info.

  • larryatcycleitalia January 5th, 2013 at 5:42 pm #10

    Just rode this today and linked our blog viewers to you as you can see here
    http://cycleitalia.blogspot.com/2013/01/still-in-southern-california.html
    Nice blog by the way!

  • rallison January 5th, 2013 at 6:14 pm #11

    Snow on La Cumbre! Nice. Glad you enjoy the blog!

  • […] as well. A day such as this happened last week when I set out to ride to Santa Barbara and climb Gibraltar – a popular climb in the area at an average of 8% over […]

  • […] as well. A day such as this happened last week when I set out to ride to Santa Barbara and climb Gibraltar – a popular climb in the area with an average of 8% over […]

  • Carmen Allison August 27th, 2014 at 9:50 pm #14

    It is still an awesome climb!

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