West Camino Cielo


West Camino Cielo

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

Sign for the ... now defunct .. Cielo Store Crossing the 154 near San Marcos Pass

The Santa Ynez Mountains run parallel to the Pacific coast of Santa Barbara County.

A wonderful dramatic trail ... Camino Cielo ... runs along the range's crest.

Stagecoach Road leading to Kinevan Road

I'd previously ridden along Camino Cielo eastward from the San Marcos Pass.


West Camino Cielo is a rather more challenging ride ... being longer, much more remote and for most of its length unpaved.

Being of a somewhat lazy disposition I took a taxi up to the Cielo Store. The current owner, who was tending his plants, confirmed that the store was closed permanently ... fortunately I was carrying enough supplies to see me through the trip.

Descending down the shady Kinevan Road to San Jose Creek

I carefully crossed the busy Highway 154 onto Kinevan Road and descended into the tree lined canyon containing San Jose Creek.

Kinevan Road / West Camino Road junction

This was to be the only downhill for some while ... and the shady passage contrasted with the open hillsides to come.

Houses hidden away below East Camino Cielo

The road joins West Camino Cielo and the climbing begins.

Behind I could see the wooded slopes below East Camino Cielo ... dotted with expensive looking properties half hidden amongst the trees.

One of the first of the 180 degree bends

The road climbs quite steeply out of San Jose Canyon ... twisting and turning its way up to the ridge line.

One of the wind carved roadside rocks

Gradually ... as you approach the ridge ... the trees thin and the hillside becomes scattered with giant sandstone boulders.

They'll have to move some of these rocks before they can play croquet.

Many of which have been eroded into strange sculptural shapes.

As the slope eases you pass numerous homesteads ... each competing to take advantage of the amazing view southward towards the Pacific. Ironically many of these have wooden fences preventing those on the road viewing their homes.

The view south through the haze to the Channel Islands
Winding through the rocks on West Camino Cielo Winding through the rocks on West Camino Cielo

As you climb further the houses thin out ... and the road continues to wind its way up the wooded boulder-strewn slope to reach the ridge.

Santa Barbara's Airport in the western suburb of Goleta

To the south I could see out over a somewhat hazy Santa Barbara towards the Channel Islands ... San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz ... seemingly floating on the horizon.

The final section of tarmac ... for some while

Below in Goleta ... the suburb which hosts the University ... I could clearly see the runways of Santa Barbara's airport.

Rock pile overlooking the gun club

I passed a road gang who were patching the road surface ... which in parts was more patch than original tarmac.

Winchester Canyon Gun Club

After about eight kilometres the climb eased and I reached the area known as Lizard's Mouth. Here the sandstone is exposed and provides challenges to climbers who indulge in 'bouldering'.

End of the tarmac ... and the going gets tougher Most motor vehicles find the 'road' hard enough

Just beyond I passed the Winchester Canyon Gun Club ... which operates under a Special Use Permit.

Currently this requires them ... to appease the local Chumash Indian Tribe ... by not operating on Solstices and Equinoxes.

The dirt road swinging to the northern side of the ridge line View ahead from the Switchback is somewhat spoilt by pylons

Today was not one of those days ... a number of people were busy firing away at clay pigeons.

Hoping not to be confused with a target ... I peddled on and reached the end of the tarmac.

Approaching the Switchback

The road then loops to the north around a shoulder and descends off the ridge. This opens up tantalising glimpses of the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

The 180 degree Switchback

After rounding a bend the trail drops dramatically to a 180° bend known as the Switchback.

Google Earth's view of the switchback and the subsequent route along the crest

Before dropping down ... I could for the first time see the trail stretching ahead ... crossing a col ... and climbing along the ridge to a series of peaks.

The road surface in this section is covered in shale and care is needed not to slip over the edge.

Camino Cielo stretching off into the distance No motor vehicles ... well bikes are OK then
Sandy trail rounding a bluff Climbing a rocky gully
More exposed sandstone

After safely navigating the Switchback I began the 500 metre climb up to Santa Ynez Peak.

Vegetation encroaching on the road

The road surface varied frequently between hard rock, packed dirt and loose sand.

For two short sections I had to resort to walking to climb over the rocky surface ... which didn't provide enough grip for my hybrid's 38 mm tyres. In another place deep sand prevented my bike heading in the direction I wanted ... and we parted company ... fortunately I landed on my feet.

The aerials on Broadcast Peak

In this area you pass over the ... unseen ... Tecolote Tunnel. This takes water from Lake Cachuma under the Santa Ynez Mountains to Santa Barbara.

The six mile long, seven foot diameter tunnel was constructed in the 1950s. As well as methane and hard rock the workers had to overcome underground springs which produced water at 117°F.

View north over Lake Cachuma towards the San Rafael Range

As I continued to climb the trees began to thin and the views became more extensive. To the north I could see the whole of Lake Cachuma and the San Rafael Range beyond.

The northernmost point of Camino Cielo
Looping towards the northernmost point of Camino Cielo Flowers

Camino Cielo loops circuitously around a rocky outcrop before climbing to the first significant summit - Broadcast Peak.

One of the rougher sections Broadcast Peak

After surmounting a rather rough section the trail passes to the southern side of the summit ... which as its name suggests ... is home to a TV transmitter (KEYT) as well as a host of microwave aerials.

The slope of the climb then eased somewhat and gave me time to admire the dramatic views south towards the ocean.

View south from below Broadcast Peak across to the Channel Islands in the distance
Camino Cielo below Broadcast Peak

With Santa Barbara well behind me there was almost no visible sign of human activity.


The vegetation on the southern flanks of the Santa Ynez Mountains appeared to stretch all the way down to the shore.

Camino Cielo then dips to cross a saddle and climbs to reach its highest point (1,310 m) at Santa Ynez Peak ... this peak is also adorned with a communication tower.

Santa Ynez Peak (1,310 m)

Climbing up the last few metres I fantasized about finding a café at the top.

The rocket tracking Observatory

I paused at the summit to admire the view ... when a 4x4 drew up and the occupants offered me an ice cool Coke ... sometimes your wishes come true (thanks guys)!

At this point ... after around 14 km of off-road cycling ... the tarmac resumes ... and the descent begins.

I next passed the observatory which is used to optically track rocket launches from the Vandenberg Air Force Base some 50 kilometres to the west.

Lake Cachuma to the north
Flowers Flowers

Many of the flowers and shrubs along this section were adorned with hand written ribbons saying 'do not trim'. I'm not sure whether the intention was that they should never be cut ... or only that they should be left until they had finished flowering.

The road contouring around a bluff

From this point the road descends some 1,300 metres to the ocean with an average slope of around 1 in 15.

Sign at Refugio Pass

I put on my wind-proof jacket to avoid getting chilled and set off to enjoy the freewheel.

None too friendly here ...

In seemingly no time at all I descended the 10 kilometres to the Refugio Pass. Refugio is a Spanish word meaning refuge and is pronounced re-foo-hee-oh.

You can't say you haven't been warned

The pass links the coast at Refugio Beach State Park to Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley. The southern half is tarmaced but the northern section features creek crossings and very rutted and rocky surfaces.

Sited near to the Pass is Rancho del Cielo ... President Reagan's Californian home.

'From the first day we saw it, Rancho del Cielo cast a spell over us. No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does.' ~ Ronald Reagan
Descending through an arch of trees View down to the Pacific

During his time as President the ranch became known as the Western White House ... and Reagan was often photographed here either on a horse or chopping wood.

One of the interesting bends on the descent ... I'm not sure what the cross signifies
Criss-crossing the creek

From the Pass I turned south towards the ocean.

The road has almost flattened out

The road descends down Cañada del Refugio alongside a creek ... zig-zagging from one side to the other.

Junction for Refugio Road and Refugio State Beach Shadows at Refugio State Beach

Ranches and houses become more numerous as you descend ... and eventually the road flattens out and arrives at Refugio State Beach.

What to do if there is a problem with the oil pipeline

It's rather strange to go from a mountain environment to a beach in under an hour.

Bike path alongside the railway and Highway 101

From the beach a bike path runs along side the Union Pacific Railway and Highway 101 ... and in parts the edge of the path has fallen into the ocean.

El Capitan State Beach

The bike path terminates at El Capitan State Beach ... after which I had to join the shoulder of Highway 101 to return to Santa Barbara.

View back up to Camino Cielo ... shrouded in cloud

From the Highway I could look up to Camino Cielo and Santa Ynez and Broadcast Peaks ... the tops of which were dipping into and out of cloud.

I was glad that it had been clear when I was at the top.


Kirby James