26

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

    13

    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

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