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).

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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

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