Category: Santa Barbara County

27

Santa Barbara – Refugio Rd to West Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak Climb


Santa Barbara – the epicenter of tough hill climbing in southern California? Quite possibly. While the mountain roads ringing Santa Barbara do not climb as high as those in the LA 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 right up there with these climbs. This is a steep and scenic climb about 20 miles north of Santa Barbara just off the 101. Given the slightly more remote location and the fact that it is not a through road (unless you are willing to descend down a rough dirt road on the other side), Refugio gets very little car traffic. It gets significantly less traffic than Old San Marcos or Gibraltar – and those climbs don’t get all that much traffic.

Refugio has one more thing going for it that rarely gets mentioned – you can (and should) connect with West Camino Cielo at the top of the Refugio climb. The Camino Cielo section is much more mellow (aside from the last mile or so), but offers one of the most beautiful and scenic stretches of climbing in southern California. Taken together, this ride has it all – super steep stretches, great scenery and sustained climbing (you start at almost sea level and hit ~4000 ft in elevation).

Important Stats:
Refugio Rd Section:

  • Main climb: 8.6% for 3.7 miles
  • Steepest section: 10.0% for 2.4 miles
  • First ~0.5 miles of climbing: Just under 15%!
  • W Camino Cielo Section:

  • 5.8% for 5.7 miles (1740 ft gained)
  • 4,000 ft elevation summit point
  • ~9% for last mile steep push
  • 8%+ steeper mile-long section early on
  • Aside from the two steep sections above, Camino Cielo is very mellow
  • Small descent just past the 3 mile point
  • Anyway, this last weekend I got to ride this with my mom. Since it has been about a year since I last rode this, I was definitely looking forward to it. We parked just off the 101 along Refugio Rd – one of the few spots you can park for free in the area. Being right near the ocean, this spot was covered in fog:

    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak

    The fog was actually welcome – on a climbing ride fog is very pleasant to have. Unfortunately, the fog quickly disappeared:

    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak
    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak

    On the other hand, this meant the views would be nice. After a couple of miles of cycling through orchards, we start hitting some more forested sections:

    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak
    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak

    Soon, we hit the gorgeous Circle Bar B Guest Ranch:

    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak
    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak

    Most traffic you encounter will be going no further than here. After passing by Circle Bar B, the climbing starts in earnest (and with some great color!):

    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak

    Of course, the shade disappears just as you really start climbing:

    From 2010-06-27 – Santa Barbara Cycling – Refugio Road to W Camino Cielo to Santa Ynez Peak

    Read the Full Ride Report

    14

    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).

    Read the Full Ride Report

    19

    Santa Barbara – Old San Marcos & Painted Cave Climb – Brutally Steep!


    Santa Barbara (Goleta, specifically) is where I grew up and where my parents still live, so I have spent a fair amount of time in the area. While San Marcos Pass Road (State Route 154) is now the preferred automobile route (due to a gentler grade and lack of tight curves), there still exists the old stagecoach route from the 1800s. This stagecoach route is steep, twisty and incredibly scenic (and, paved..quite nicely too!). There is quite a bit of history with the pass – you can read more about its history here and here. This route is known officially as North San Marcos Road and unofficially as Old San Marcos Pass Road. Old San Marcos, on its own, is a sweet, steep, tough and scenic climb absolutely worthy of climbing by any serious cyclist. But, at 3 miles long it is a bit short. You are in luck though. Old San Marcos leads right into Painted Cave Road, adding 2.4 miles of even steeper climbing to an already steep climbing route. 8.3% average grade for almost 5.5 miles. This is definitely one of the steepest sustained climbs around.

    The climb up Old San Marcos starts about a half mile after turning inland from Cathedral Oaks Road as you cross the bridge – from here on up you get very few breaks. The starting bridge:

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

    As can be seen above, initially you are sheltered by a fair amount of vegetation. This quickly gives way to the standard, less sheltered vegetation of Santa Barbara:

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

    Gorgeous still, but don’t expect tons of shade.

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

    A few incredible houses perched along the road:

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

    Beautiful, green hillsides:

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

    Of course, for this sort of green (instead of golden/brown colors) make sure to do this climb in Spring..Summer gives way to the golden hillsides. A bit further along:

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

    What a parking spot:

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

    Not long after you will come to one of the steepest, toughest switchbacks you have ever ridden up:

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

    This will test you – not only is it incredibly steep but the lead-up section is also steep enough that your heart rate will already be high when you start this. This section is fun for masochists. For a high quality panorama of this switchback, click below for the panorama I assembled:

    From HQ Panoramas

    The above will give you a nice 1600 pixel wide view.

    Shortly after this switchback you will encounter one more trying switchback. This one might be slightly easier than the previous one (we are talking relativity here – it is still really hard), but it still commands your attention. Once you complete it the views, as usual for this road, are spectacular:

    From HQ Panoramas

    Again, the above will give you a beautiful 1600 pixel wide view. This upper section gives you some great views of Goleta, Isla Vista and the Channel Islands:

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

    Read the Full Ride Report

    6

    Figueroa Mountain Loop (east side ascent)


    Figueroa Mountain. One of the famous Santa Barbara County climbs (though a bit of a drive from Santa Barbara proper!). Training ride for the Discovery Channel Pro Team. Often compared to classic European mountain climbs. 3,000+ feet of strong climbing. With such a reputation, this had been on my must-do list for a while. As my family lives in Santa Barbara (well, Goleta, technically), and my mom loves cycling as well, a free weekend was all the reason I needed to hop in the car and head up to SB County. That, and a pick-up party at Foxen Winery (with about a dozen, awesome Foxen wines available for tasting!) sealed the deal. On to the ride!

    Woke up at just after 7 (not a fan…not a morning person…grrr), got ready and got the bikes and supplies loaded into the car. A short, coffee-enhanced 45 minute drive later, we were parked in the too-cute town of Los Olivos (highly recommended, actually…beautiful and lots of great winery tasting rooms all around..and the sandwiches at Panino are quite good). So, just mom and me gearing up for the ride:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Parked right outside…you guessed it…a winery tasting room (it would seem that half the buildings in Los Olivos are tasting rooms!). Heading out, we went south on Grand, which shortly turned into Roblar after veering east. Roblar Avenue is home to Roblar winery (hmmm, wonder if there is a connection with the names…), a gorgeous establishment you pass right before crossing 154:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    After crossing 154, you meander through the beautiful countryside of the area. Relatively flat for this section, you pass vineyards, farms and horse stables. Tough not to stop every mile or so to take photos!

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Not too long after (and shortly after seeing a hawk snacking on a freshly caught mouse!), we intersect Happy Canyon Road and truly commit ourselves to this ride. Can’t believe I talked my mom into this! Actually, she can more than handle this sort of stuff..pretty cool, no? Happy Canyon quickly turns into a true country road – barely two lanes, no lane markings, etc. Is that a problem? Not at all. The drivers are courteous and infrequent. The scenery is wonderful:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And the signs along the road…not something I see every day in Long Beach…

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And nature even provides for some of its own art:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And, back to the riding! While being relatively flat to this point (some false flats and some rollers, but no real climbing), the climbing is soon to start! Rounding a bend on Happy Canyon, the real climbing starts:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    The wind, at this point, is basically absent. The temperature is not too bad (despite being early June, this day was relatively cool), but the climbing and the absence of a breeze still makes this part hard enough. Nothing crazy, but some good, solid climbing.

    Pretty soon, we are quite exposed and get some incredible views:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    The golden hills surround us. A bit more climbing, and just after passing a shooting ground (gun shots are surprisingly startling when heard in what is otherwise such quiet countryside!), we hit the 9/10s of a mile of unpaved road. Having driven this previously, I was actually kind of worried about riding over this on a road bike. It definitely did not look welcoming to standard road bike tires. And walking almost a mile while pushing a bike along did not..surprise, surprise..sound fun. So, I picked the (theoretically) fastest option…to ride straight through. Dumb, maybe. But, I also had two spare tubes. Anyway, despite being slow, I made it (and with nary a flat tire!). Fun though was hitting the slightly steeper sections..the smallest amount of torque would spin the rear wheel!

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Finishing the unpaved section unscathed, we get a nice respite in the form of a small descent nestled amongst some beautiful scenery (of course, the whole thing basically has great scenery):

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    After this, we encounter a nice, shaded section with a couple of creek crossings (this time of year, the water was only about 2 inches deep at most, so no worries there), before finally starting our relentless climb up:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    In this section, the road basically winds along the canyon. While it doesn’t give you expansive views, the canyon itself is quite rugged and scenic. At this point, the road has been one lane for quite a while with basically no traffic. Lots of debris as you climb (so if you descend this, be careful). So, finally, almost 20 miles in, we hit Cachuma Saddle…a huge, highly-trafficked intersection:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And, by highly-trafficked, I mean virtually no traffic. Good hiking if you head towards Nira. You can get to Hurricane Deck out there by hiking (also something on my to-do list..the views are supposed to be really good). Anyway, a little break for refueling, and off we go up Figueroa Mountain Road:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Figueroa Mountain Road, quite literally, cuts right into the mountainside:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Incredible road and incredible scenery. Of course, the road itself is a decaying, slight strip of asphalt:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Rather narrow at times:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    But, can you beat that scenery? Wow. That is the sort of road I live for. And, of course, lots of rock/gravel in certain sections:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Doesn’t matter too much when ascending though, since you are going so slow! And finally, the last 200m:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And you even get some well-deserved cheering at the top:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Awesome. Seriously. That made my day. Happy to be at 4500 feet:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And happy for a descent too! The first short section of the descent is quite forested (quite odd for being so high and having been exposed for the last 2500+ feet of climbing). Nice change of pace though! After a couple of minutes of this wooded section, we break out:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And are left with a wonderful, rolling ribbon of asphalt:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Once out to some sun and hitting some incredible views, we take a 5 minute break to rest and refuel. The scene out towards Lake Cachuma is truly incredible:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    After some more nice descending (with some very cool rock formations):

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    We hit one more last ascent. Only a couple hundred feet, so it really wasn’t that bad. The top of this little ascent is also the turnoff for the Figueroa Lookout Day Use Area:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    I have fond memories of going up here as a kid when it would snow. Cool area. Descending beyond this, we start to encounter more of a mix of environment..and some steeper, winding sections of asphalt:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Fun, no? And, one of many cattle gates:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Nearing the last few miles, we start to get into some steep switchbacks:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And this section here was very steep as well:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Without much reference, it may not look steep. But, it is. Having also climbed this section a month or so previous, I hated this stretch. Steep. No wind. Sun beating off the rocks. Fun times :) And, a bit farther, another steep switchback:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    High speed descent:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Into a beautiful, moss-covered forest:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And yeah, that section is steeper than it looks as well. The first two miles of the climb on this side average around 10%..maybe slightly more. But hey, at this point, we are basically at the bottom. Round the steep curve at the bottom (where the bridge is), and we have finished Figueroa Mountain. We are not back to the car yet, but we are done with the mountain and, thankfully, have only a nice, scenic, slightly downhill 7 miles back to Los Olivos. Pass Neverland Estate on the right after a mile or two (yes, the infamous estate of Michael Jackson..and no, you can’t actually see anything interesting from the road aside from the gatepost), then on past some cattle farms…with some awfully cute young ones getting a taste of the world/their pasture:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    And, finally, just 40 miles of cycling later, we are back in Los Olivos. Load the bikes back on the car, stop in to Panino for a prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich and a chicken, sun-dried tomato and provolone sandwich and head over to Rusack Winery (a 5 minute drive from Los Olivos), for the reward:

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    We earned this stop ;) A couple of happy cyclists (and a supportive dad…well, he was drinking good wine, so he would be happy anyway!):

    From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

    Ok, long post! Guess I liked this ride! Having ascended from the west side previously, I was very glad to do the backside ascent. Both are incredible ascents. This one (the east side), is more rugged but doesn’t have some of the ridiculously steep sections like the west side does. Tough, but the grades are more consistent than the west side. Also, the east side has extremely limited cell phone reception. Bring a buddy, multiple spare tubes and extra water/food – there is little traffic and Happy Canyon can get very hot. Be prepared. Of course, if you want some nice torture, the first 2 miles of the west side ascent sure are fun ;)

    In summary…incredible ride, scenery, climb, etc. And both the east and west side ascents are worth doing separately – they are each unique. Do the loop counter-clockwise first, then do it clockwise next. Anyway, the route map:

    And, the full album can be viewed here.

    Enjoy!

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