Santa Ynez Ridge
Draft Version – Not Ready for Publication!!
The mystic part of doing gravel in Santa Barbara is the allure of the Pacific coast and the Santa Ynez mountains.
This beautiful range, with its distinctive crest, divides the Santa Ynez Valley from the south coast and reaches nearly 5,000 feet in elevation. The mountain range is a striking geological landmark as seen from almost anywhere in the Santa Ynez Valley. Its lush north-facing slopes offer relief in the Valley’s semi-arid climate in addition to an inspiring view. On the crest’s south-facing side, the mountains are tilted steeply at a 50-degree angle to the south and serve as a formidable barrier to land development. The Santa Ynez Mountains define the character of Montecito and Santa Barbara, as much, if not more, than the ocean to its south. [Inside the Santa Ynez Valley Magazine]
What you can expect on this route:
- Some meandering through the UC Santa Barbara campus and along the Pacific Coast
- A bit of ugh along highway 101
- A big climb
- A rolling but downward trending ridge ride in the Santa Yanez mountains
- A good descent, but not as long as the climb
- And a little bike path to finish up.
The route is mostly paved, but 9 miles of gravel connects two paved roads that are small, scenic and fun to ride: Refugio road and Old San Marcos road. Being close to Los Angeles, this route has a more urban feel to it.
A version of this route originally appeared on Gravel Bike California. Thanks to Zachary ?? Please see the detailed route description below as there are a few changes to what is described.
We have tagged this route as a Bandit Route versus a 5 Star Route for two reasons: (1) the five miles along Highway 101 and (2) it has yet to be ridden and verified by a Dirty Freehub Team member. All our research indicates that this is a 5 Star route.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Moderate+. Due to: (a) 9 miles of gnarly, rocky and loose gravel road and (b) some steep ups and downs in excess of 10%
When we like to ride this …
Weekdays when the traffic is less and when it’s not blistering hot. Also, be warned that the bike paths at UC Santa Barbara campus can be “crazy” during class change overs.
Food / Water
Ride Details**Read More
Miles 0 to 16 / The Coast / Paved
This first segment will be the slowest riding of the day. Leave from the Goleta Beach park heading west on bike paths through the UC Santa Barbara campus and then onto some larger, more heavily trafficked roads. The shoulder is wide and there are rumble strips [see video below]. At ~ mile 12.5 dive off Highway 101 into El Capitan Beach park and follow the paved path along the coastline to Refugio Beach park.
Goleta Beach Park is known for its long fishing pier and sunbathing beaches, and is a often a destination for bicyclists due to an extensive paved trail system. [Santa Barbara County]
Miles 16 to 29 / Refugio – Camino Cielo Climb / Paved
At mile 16 turn onto Refugio road and get ready to climb! 13 miles, 4100 feet. The first 3 miles gains only 400 feet. At mile 19, when entering the Los Padres National forest, the climbing begins in earnest. At mile 24 turn right onto West Camino Cielo this offers one of the “most beautiful and scenic stretches of climbing in southern California“. [Tough Ascent]
Mile 29 to 47 / Santa Ynez Ridge / Gravel to Paved
Near Santa Ynez peak [mile 29.5] the road surface changes over to gravel / dirt road. And … it can be be a bit sandy. Far in the distance, to your left, is Cachuma lake. The next 8 miles are downhill on rough, rocky and loose terrain. You will be wishing for fatter tires. Also use caution as you will encounter uphill traffic of jeepers, cyclists, and ebikes.
From its radio tower covered summit (of Santa Ynez peak) you can see one of the most expansive views in southern California. The vista includes the northern Channel Islands, Santa Barbara coastline, backbone of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Ynez Valley, and the San Rafael Mountains. [SummitPost.org]
At mile 36 there is a blip of a gravel climb: 1.3 miles with 500 feet of gain. Just before mile 39 the pavement returns along with the downhill trend. At mile 43 stay left and make your way to to Cold Spring Tavern. This is a former stage coach stop from the mid 1800’s. Leaving the tavern, you will get a view of the Cold Spring Canyon Arch bridge, the longest arch bridge in California.
At mile 45 you encounter the last climb of the day, 500 feet of gain in a little less than 2 miles. This section is a deviation from that described in the video. The route as mapped now excludes the time on Highway 154.
Miles 47 to Finish / Downhill to Santa Barbara / Paved
Mile 47 to the 53 are the “most turbo charged” of the day; a loss in elevation of 2500 feet with an average descent gradient of 8.5% on Painted Cave and Old San Marcos road. Once back in Santa Barbara stroll back to the start / finish on the bike path.
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. (Note – you are descending these roads, not climbing.) [Tough Ascent]
Ahh, tire choice! It is only 9 miles of gravel. Narrow with less tread will be faster on the pavement, but require better handling skills on the gravel. Wider with more tread will be slower on the pavement, but more secure on the gravel. Maybe 38 mm with a low knob tread?
Also, consider starting out with higher air pressure in your tires, dropping pressure for the gravel sector, and then re-inflating to a higher pressure when back on pavement.
We recommend a red blinky safety light for the paved sector of the ride. We particularly like those with a rear looking radar.
There is probably a really cool way to route through UC Santa Barbara without being on busy roads. Give us your best ideas, we would really appreciate the help!
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
Blue = single track
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.