Catway Road provides a wonderful way to get a feeling for the back country. The road wanders through pine forests and steep, grass-covered hillsides for eight miles. The first half is along the western slope of Figueroa Mountain; the last half along a bony ridge leading to Zaca Peak. The views looking out over the San Rafael Wilderness are great.
From Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, take Figueroa Mountain Road eleven miles to the Catway Road turnoff, a half-mile beyond the Figueroa Mountain Ranger Station.
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:
For a short ride that ends with views over the entire San Rafael Wilderness, you can’t beat the trip out to the Figueroa Jeepway and back. From Figueroa Mountain Road, the Catway rises gradually for 2.4 miles to the Black Willow Springs trailhead, gaining 550 feet. The saddle here provides the first views, with the Black Willow and Fir Canyon drainages directly below you and San Rafael Mountain in the far distance. From there it is just 0.3 mile to the jeepway and 180-degree views of the back country.
At this point the Catway turns to the left and follows the top of a long ridge that ends at Wildhorse Peak. From here on the riding is a bit more difficult as the road yo-yos up and over a series of knolls and peaks, several of which are fairly steep.
The steepest is a mile beyond the jeepway. The climb is a half-mile long but seems like forever. Just before the spur road to Zaca Peak, a second uphill awaits you, though it isn’t as steep. The top of this ridge marks the high point along the Catway, and from here you are looking directly down on Manzana Creek, the Castle Crags, and Hurricane Deck.
You are also looking almost directly into the Zaca Lake drainage. To see the lake you need to go a bit farther. But this entails a long downhill ride which you will have to return back up later. Cedros Saddle is at the bottom of this 500-foot elevation drop. On one side of the saddle, the Zaca Trail leads down to the lake; on the other the Sulphur Springs Trail winds down into the Manzana Creek drainage.
From Cedros Saddle it is an additional 1.75 miles to the Wildhorse overlook. There are more ups and downs, though the ride is scenic and provides more views of Zaca Lake and, at the end, a panorama of the lower Sisquoc River watershed.
To reach Zaca Lake, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch before your trip back, take the trail from Cedros Saddle. It is two miles to the historic resort. The trail down is steep. I would recommend leaving your bike on top and walking down, unless you like pushing your bike uphill. If you don’t mind pushing, it is a very cool ride down to the lake.
Zaca Peak Spur
Just under 5 miles into the ride and at the point where the Catway road descends down a short but steep hill, a spur road that leads to Zaca Peak cuts back to the left. The spur leads for 1.5 miles to an open area and the start of a trail that will take you out to Grassy Mountain or down to Zaca Lake (not always open to the public). This is perhaps the premiere spot for an overnight bike camp out anywhere in the forest but you'll need to bring water along with you.
The spurroad drops down for a quarter-mile, rises over a small knoll, then drops a bit more sharply for three-quarters-mile to a saddle. From there it is an easy half-mile of gentle uphill to the road’s end on the south face of Zaca Peak. The Lookout Mountain Trail begins here, providing a pleasant break before the return ride back to your car.
The trail leads a quarter-mile down to another saddle. The trail is overgrown and the shale is loose. I would recommend leaving your bike behind and walking, unless you are continuing all the way down to the lake.
For those of you who have always marveled at the beauty of Grassy Mountain and wondered how you might get to the top of it, this is where you start. Continue down the trail until you’ve reached the saddle.
The Lookout Mountain Trail begins on the right. The manzanita is a bit overgrown, but you should be able to spot it pretty easily. This leads across the north side of the ridge for several miles to the overlook. Along the way a connector leads down to Zaca Lake, a spectacular route for those who are looping back to Mattei’s Tavern.
To reach Grassy Mountain, don’t take this trail; instead, look for a faint path leading up to the left on top of the ridge. This will take you for a half-mile to the start of a connecting ridge, which leads out to the very top of Grassy Mountain. The last several hundred yards can be hard to negotiate, but once you reach the top and sit on the apex of this triangular peak you will be glad you came. In the spring this is incredible country. The entire front of the mountain blooms with acres of golden poppies and deeply scented purple lupine.
If you are making this a loop ride, once you reach the end of the road continue down the trail to the saddle. It is a bit loose, but the single track is pretty easy. Just before you reach the saddle there is a steep section you might want to walk. Look for the trail on the north side of the ridge in the manzanita.
At the half-mile mark the brush thins out, the pine forests begin to dominate, and suddenly you find yourself with very nice views looking almost straight down on Zaca Lake. The trail continues to drop, leading around to the left into a small drainage and then around another hill. Shortly after this, look for the connector leading down to the lake. It is steep riding, with the trail dropping from an elevation of 3,300 feet to 2,400 feet in just over a mile. You may want to walk parts of it.
I would highly recommend taking time to ride or walk out as far as you can towards the end of the Lookout Mountain Trail. Unfortunately, the brush isn't cut back often enough and oyu may not make it all the way out to the end — which is 1.25 miles farther and ends just before the top of Lookout Mountain.