This, the ride to Little Pine, and the Gibraltar Loop are the three best rides in the lower Santa Ynez River drainage. The Buckhorn Trail combines much of what the Little Pine Ride has to offer with 10 miles of exquisite single-track riding in Buckhorn Canyon and along lower Indian Creek. There is a real feeling of wildness about the ride.Unfortunately, due to really bad trail conditions, the Buckhorn isn't passable to mtn bikes. If you would like to see it re-opened call the District Ranger and make sure he knows you want it open.
From Upper Oso, ride up Little Pine Road for nine miles to the Buckhorn Trail intersection. The trail is 1.5 miles beyond the chalk bluff switchbacks leading across the steep east face of Little Pine Mountain. There is an easy-to-spot trail sign marking the start of the trail.
Expectations for Riding the Santa Barbara Area Trails
Country trails are multi-use trails and as such are used by several thousand users each week. If you are riding downhill on these trails, expect to encounter them on your way. Your cooperation will help make everyone's experience a safe and pleasant one.
Ten things every mountain biker who rides the front country trails is expected to do:
Setting the Scene
Either as a day trip or overnight, this ride allows you to explore a relatively pristine and secluded part of the back country. I’ve always done the ride as a day trip, but this year I’m planning on taking the BOB (beast of burden) along and camp at Lower Buckhorn before heading home. There’ll be a few tough sections along the way and possibly a few switchbacks on which I’ll have to unhook the trailer, but what a great way to spend a weekend in the outback. With the overnight stay comes a bit more time to get back on the following day, too, which means I might even make the ride back via Pendola Road and Romero Saddle all the way to town.
The route to the start of the Buckhorn Trail is up Little Pine Road. This takes you up past the Camuesa Road intersection (you’ll come back out this way), across the chalk bluffs, and then along the eastern shoulder of Little Pine Mountain.
The first three-fourths mile of riding goes through the Oso Narrows, a beautiful section where the Matilija Sandstone cuts across the canyon. This is a good time to warm up the legs, and if you are like me and need a lot of time before your legs loosen up, you might think about starting the ride from Lower Oso, which gives you an extra mile and fifteen minutes or so to stretch out.
Once you pass the trail leading to Nineteen Oaks Campground the riding becomes much more strenuous, and from here to the Camuesa Road intersection (five miles ahead) it is pretty steady uphill. Almost immediately you will begin climbing straight out of the canyon on a series of switchbacks. Because of sliding hillsides, one of the old switchbacks has been eliminated, making the first two even steeper. Once you are past these, however, the climb is steady but not too difficult.
It will take you an hour to an hour and a half to reach the Camuesa Road intersection. At this point you will have gained 1,600 feet and will have another 900 feet of gain awaiting you to the Buckhorn trailhead. This is a great spot to rest for a bit before the final climb.
Once you are back on your bike, an easy mile of slight uphill and a stretch of downhill bring you to the foot of the chalk bluffs. I always feel that once I am past this section I am really out in the back country. The switchbacks leading up to the final climb across the steep bluffs are actually much easier than they appear from below. However, the final switchback is a tough one, with short steep sections forcing you to pedal hard. What a feeling it is to turn the corner!
Once you are on the backside of the bluffs you’ll have an almost level half-mile to regain your legs and then a relatively mellow climb up to the trailhead. Look for a trail leading right and down into Buckhorn Canyon once you reach the top of the first knoll. An easily spotted sign marks the trailhead.
The trail leads down into Buckhorn Canyon, through five miles of chaparral and winding canyon thick with trees and riparian growth and complete with a feeling of remoteness and solitude.
At first the path drops steeply through the chaparral. The Monterey Shale is loose, making the riding somewhat squirrely, and in places you will want to walk your bike. Then the trail flattens out and enters a lovely, almost level canyon. Deep and narrow, filled with rose bushes, oak, and sycamore, you’ll wish the trail would continue on forever and ever.
Unfortunately it lasts only three miles. You’ll know you are near the end when you reach Lower Buckhorn Campground, a half-mile up from Indian Creek. This is a great place to park for the night and an excellent base to use for exploring the Dick Smith Wilderness on foot.
The good news is that this isn’t the end of the single tracking. There are still almost four miles of it ahead of you along Indian Creek as it meanders down to Camuesa Road. Once you reach the road there are several choices you might make. The most hard-core route would be out Pendola Road to Romero Saddle and then down Romero Road to Montecito. If you have a friend drop you off at Upper Oso in the morning, you can make this a shuttle trip. It is a hard ride, but very possible for those in good shape.
Those who want to extend the single track even more will turn left and follow Pendola Road down to Mono Campground and then take Mono Creek Trail to the Santa Ynez River. A short uphill section on Forbush Trail will take you to Gibraltar Trail, which you can then ride back down through Red Rock to Lower Oso and your car.
The best choice is to turn right and continue back up on Camuesa Road. It is ten miles to Little Pine Road and then five miles of screaming downhill back to Upper Oso.
For the first mile Camuesa Road rises steadily, then in the next mile it drops down into Camuesa Canyon. The downhill is fun, but unfortunately you lose everything you just gained. The next three miles involve fairly easy but steady uphill riding through oak meadows and short, narrow, and pretty canyons. Middle Camuesa Campground is 5.6 miles along the way, and this would also be a nice place to camp. Beyond it, the road leads through a long, thin meadow for a mile, then turns left and ascends out of the canyon. In a mile you come to a high point, and from there you can see the Camuesa/Buckhorn intersection.
A side road also leads from this point to the top of Camuesa Peak, which involves a gain of 300 feet and a mile’s ride. (Have you got the energy?) From the top of the peak you’ll find yourself looking straight down on Gibraltar Reservoir. Look for the canyon on the north side of the lake, which looks like it is filled with silt. Actually, it is. This is where the material dredged from the lake’s bottom (in a valiant effort to keep it from silting in) is being put.
From the high point, several short drops and climbs lead to Buckhorn Road, and from there it is all downhill.