When I feel like getting in a good ride—one with plenty of exercise and great scenery—this is the one I take. The ride provides views of Gibraltar Dam, a visit to a historic quicksilver mine, and three miles of great single-track riding on Gibraltar Trail. This route is only moderate in difficulty, and takes you though a beautiful canyon.
From Red Rock, take either the high or low road to Gibraltar Dam. Continue up the road beyond the dam for a half-mile to a closed gate (next to a large water tank). This road leads down to an inlet of the reservoir. Follow the right side of the inlet to the mouth of Gidney Creek, uphill, then east 2.4 miles to the mine. Gibraltar Trail is just beyond this point.
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:
The Santa Ynez River Valley beyond Gibraltar Dam is a place very few people know about. One of the reasons is that it is a long way there by foot. It offers interesting history at the Sunbird Quicksilver Mine and a section of trail that follows rolling hills of grass into the upper Santa Ynez River area. But unless you get there by bike, you most likely won’t ever see it.
The feeling is of both remoteness and rugged beauty, surprising in such close proximity to Santa Barbara’s domestic water supply.
From the Red Rock parking area I usually take the high road. It’s a lot quicker. Then I return on the low road for a quick dip.
Just beyond the dam the road up to Angostura Pass begins. Stay on this for a half-mile until you come to a spur road next to a large water tank. The dirt road was built to service the quicksilver mine and until recently has been completely closed to vehicle traffic because of a slide across it.
The dirt road follows the right side of the inlet to Gidney Creek, then turns sharply left and up what seems like an interminable hill to a nice overlook of the reservoir. From here it is 2.4 miles of almost level riding to the Sunbird Mine. While the mine is tempting to explore, a recent article about it in the Santa Barbara News-Press indicates that potentially dangerous levels of mercury may still be present.
Until recently the Forest Service was powerless to stop people from entering the old mine buildings, because the claim was still active. However, the claim owner failed to re-file it in 1991, allowing control to revert to the federal government. Ultimately the Forest Service may end up razing the whole site, but until then it will remained fenced off, and you will see signs asking you not to enter the mine site.
Beyond the mine structures, the road continues a bit farther. As you ride east it curves to the right around a hill for 0.2 mile. At this point the road splits. The right fork takes you up a series of switchbacks which lead to other mine sites and rusting equipment. Eventually it dead-ends.
To continue upstream, take the left fork. The road winds to the right around another hill for a half-mile to the start of the the trail. It cuts across a flat and then curves around a fairly large drainage and onto a high plateau covered with grassy slopes. You will gain several hundred feet on this uphill section, and you may have to push some of it.
Once you are on the plateau the trail opens to intense views of the upper Santa Ynez River drainage. In the distance you can see the cottonwood-filled mouth of Mono Creek. The next several miles have some of the finest single track. The trail is almost level, with the river beauty spread out below you, hanging just off the left side of your handlebars.
Return via the same route.