This section of Camino Cielo is paved all of the way across to Gibraltar Road and 4 miles beyond that. The views are equal to those on West Camino, with many turnouts to enjoy them, as well as several historic sites, including Painted Cave (a mile down P.C. Road) and Knapp’s Castle (.75 miles off the pavement). You’ll work on the way up but the reward is on the way down—miles of coasting, with the breeze and the views for company. For those who have been driven to the Cielo Store, you can ride all the way across the Santa Ynez Mountains and down Gibraltar into town.
Trip mileage begins at the top of San Marcos Pass
East Camino—San Marcos Pass to Gibraltar Road
0.0 San Marcos Pass
0.2 Cielo Store. Once a great place for breakfast before a ride but long since closed. Too bad.
1.75 The Pines. Look for an open parking area on the left with a large pine tree in the center of it. A short hike up to the top of a small saddle and back to the west leads to a picturesque forest of pines and a series of wind-sculptured caves. This is an excellent short hike, a great place for kids to scramble on the rocks, and a nice picnic area.
2.0 Fremont Ridge Road. You can walk out this road approximately one mile before it drops steeply down into the Santa Ynez Valley. The ridge is relatively level, with rolling knolls and beautiful views over the valley.
2.5 Painted Cave Road. Painted Cave is approximately a mile down this narrow road, which winds past what was once Jane Fonda’s Laurel Springs Ranch and the Painted Cave community, eventually leading back down to Highway 154. An excellent small book, “Guide to Painted Cave”, by Travis Hudson, who was Curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Natural History before his untimely death several years ago, can be purchased at most bookstores or at the Cielo Store.
3.7 Knapp’s Castle turnoff. Snyder Trail leads down to Paradise Road (see trail description in my Day Hikes book).
6.0 Arroyo Burro Road. A shooting area is just to the north side of the road where Arroyo Burro intersects with Camino Cielo, so be extremely careful should you decide to explore anywhere in this area. The historic Arroyo Burro Trail crosses here (see trail description).
8.0 La Cumbre Peak. At the 3,985’ peak you’ll not only have the best views in town but there are picnic tables for a pleasant afternoon’s feast, and plenty of rocks for the kids (or you) to explore on the coast side of the crest. For those with a real sense of adventure, it is possible (but very difficult) to work your way down the front side of the mountain, across a saddle, and up to the top of a lesser mountain called Cathedral Peak, a 300’ spire which has a small trail register nestled in a mound of rocks.
9.0 Angostura Pass. From the pass, a dirt road leads 6 miles down to Gibraltar Dam. Two miles down this is the beginning of the Matias Potrero Trail, which leads across the back side of the mountains to Arroyo Burro Road (see trail descriptions).
10.0 Gibraltar Road. On the way down look for Gibraltar Rock, a large ice cube shaped boulder made of extremely resistant Matilija Sandstone, where you will usually be able to watch climbers testing their skill (and courage).
The thin, winding eastern part of Camino Cielo also seems remote, though not nearly so much as the western portion. But it is paved all the way, making it available to all bike riders. Despite the many cars you may see, there is still, nevertheless, a feeling of exhilaration and adventure in the ride across the crest. How many towns even have such an opportunity?
Riding the entire 10-mile section of East Camino to Gibraltar Road, and then continuing on this back down into town provides a great adventure that you'll remember for a long time. The 7 miles down to Sheffield Reservoir is an intense downhill experience. Along the way you can stop at Gibraltar Rock, where you can climb up on top for a bit of rest or to watch the climbers as they work there way up the 100' tall rock face.
From the Cielo Store the first .75 miles on East Camino is relatively flat, which is very deceiving, for as you round the final corner, several steep (really steep!) switch backs signal that serious riding is ahead of you. Fortunately this only lasts for about a half mile. Beyond this the climbing is steady, though gradual enough to be manageable.
At the 2.5 mile mark, Painted Cave enters from the right. Jane Fonda’s Laurel Springs Ranch is just down the road, as is the Painted Cave Resort, and just below this Painted Cave, home to a series of pictographs that I believe are the finest to be found anywhere in the US. If you have time, the ride down is worth it.
A bit more than a mile further up Camino Cielo, look for a locked gate on the Santa Ynez side of the mountains. This leads to Knapp’s Castle, another one of those wonderful places to explore. It is a half mile off the road.
The uphill continues to a crest from which you can see La Cumbre Peak (3,985') in the distance. At this point you’ve gone 5 miles. If you want to ride further plan on a few hundred feet of uphill on the way back. Drop down to Arroyo Burro Saddle, then climb for 2 more miles to the peak (8 miles from the store), which may be a bit tiring after the initial 5 miles of uphill. There are picnic tables there and lots of rocks to explore at the peak. The views are the best.
If you want to head into town, it’s all downhill (or almost) from La Cumbre Peak. What a ride! Angostura Pass (which leads down to Gibraltar Reservoir) is a mile beyond La Cumbre Peak. It is another mile to Gibraltar Road, where 7 miles of downhill await you.
Note—From the top of Gibraltar Road, East Camino continues another 5 miles before it turns to dirt. This section is mostly level and offers a very nice afternoon ride for those who want to drive to the top of Gibraltar and ride from there.