The Catway provides a great training ride. The route continues around the upper end of the east fork of Mission Canyon, bringing you high up on the mountain within a relatively short distance. There are excellent views out over Rattlesnake Canyon and the Montecito coast. An off-trail route allows you to enjoy a hike to the top of Mission Ridge before cruising back down on the catway. The first .75 miles is on paved road and beyond that the challenge begins. The dirt road is open and fairly easily traversed by most bikers except for the last quarter-mile, which is steep.
From the Santa Barbara Mission drive up Mission Canyon Road to Foothill Road and turn right, then turn left several hundred yards later, by the fire station. Continue up Mission Canyon to the Tunnel Road turnoff, a half-mile before the Botanic Garden. Continue several miles to the end. Park properly. The police frequently ticket illegally parked cars here. The dirt section begins about three-quarters mile beyond the locked gate
Expectations for Riding the Front Country Trails
Front 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:
Have a bike bell so other trail users know you are approaching.
Keep your speed down; practice riding techniques that minimize impacts.
Good braking means never having to skid. Do not lock up your brakes.
Approach switchbacks with caution and brake well before you reach them.
Stay on the designated tread. The front country trails are multi-use, not a race course.
Ride with other trail users in mind and enhance rather than interfere with their enjoyment.
Always assume there is another trail user around each corner.
Yield the right-of-way to uphill trail users. Stop and dismount if necessary to allow them to pass.
When approaching equestrians, dismount and ask them what they want you to do.
Be courteous. Smile and say something friendly to everyone you encounter.
The ride to the top of the catway is one of Santa Barbara’s great training rides. The pavement—which is three-fourths mile in length and easy pedalling—allows your legs to warm up for the climb ahead of you. Not too far after the bridge across the west fork of Mission Canyon, the pavement ends and the dirt road begins. Just as it gets steep, look for a dirt road leading off to the right.
Within a few yards the climbing beings. The road leads up and around the main part of Mission Canyon through sections of oak trees, then once you are on the east side of the canyon the road gets even steeper as it climbs to the top of the ridge. This is a great spot to take a break, and there is a beautiful set of rocks to relax against while you take a sip or two of water.
It is good to rest a bit, because Heartbreak Hill is just beyond, a quarter-mile of very steep riding which leads to the last of the powerline towers. This is a tough section, and there is no disgrace in not being able to make it up without stopping; I have to stop most of the time.
Once you are at the road’s end you’ll find plenty of places to enjoy the views and, if you want to lock your bike to one of the towers or hide it in the brush, there is a great hike which will take you to the top of Mission Ridge. This is an off-trail route, not a regularly maintained Forest Service trail, which means it is narrow and you’ll find yourself clambering in and out of chaparral and over rocky ledges, but to me that makes it even better.
The first several switchbacks take you up onto the ridge, and from there you can scramble up as far as you want. It is a quarter-mile or so to the highest point and an incredible place to have lunch.
You’ll find the ride back down both exhilarating and quick. Please make sure you stay in control of your speed; a wipeout could be serious, and lots of families use the Catway for “power walking,” with the babies in strollers outfitted with bicycle-type inflated wheels. Caution is the keyword.