The first three miles of the ride is easy as you coast down to the river and then climb gradually into the lower end of Quiota Canyon. There are small farms as well as luxurious estates, and as the canyon begins to narrow, there are beautiful oak forests where, if you are lucky, you might spot a flock of wild turkeys. The ride to the top is steep, but if you are riding over to Refugio State Beach to meet friends for a picnic, you will love the ride down to the coast.
From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, follow Highway 154 for 23.2 miles past Lake Cachuma, then turn left on Highway 246 and continue 2.2 miles to Refugio Road. Park in the Santa Ynez High School parking lot.
Setting the Scene
In the 1880s Refugio Pass was famous for its cowboys and cattle drives, with thousands of head of stock being driven to Gaviota for shipment to market. In the 1980s another maverick made the pass famous: Ronald Reagan called this part of the county home a few weeks of the year when he wasn’t being president.
Even if only for a short ride through the lower canyon, Refugio, like its Spanish name, is a refuge from the modern world. Wild boar, turkey, deer, black bear, and other creatures still can be seen in the early morning and late evening light.
From Santa Ynez High School, cross Highway 246 onto Refugio Road. Three miles of pavement follow. The first mile is a gentle downhill past the vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley Winery, then down and across the Santa Ynez River.
There is a short climb out of the river bottom past several ranches, and not too far beyond the canyon walls begin to draw in and are thick with oak forests and surrounded by steep, grassy hillsides. The road rises through a series of short uphill climbs, gaining 300 feet to a point where the road turns to dirt.
From here, if you are planning to stay on pavement, you’ll want to return along Refugio Road. Once you are back at the high school, if you feel like riding farther, continue north on Refugio Road two more miles to Baseline Avenue, turn right and ride a mile to Edison Street, and return along Edison to Santa Ynez.
Hardcore road bikers can continue farther up Refugio Road, but dirt tires are recommended. From here it is four miles and 1,550 feet of steady, steep, and sometimes excruciating uphill to the top, but it’s worth it! What is especially nice is that this part of the canyon is no longer open to cars, so you will have it mostly to yourself. Just beyond the crest is the entrance to Rancho La Sherpa retreat. One hunderd yards down is a wonderful flat rock to rest on and incredible coastal views to enjoy.
Especially hardcore riders will head left and make the climb up to Santa Ynez Peak. You’ll gain another 2,000’ but what a ride down, and of course the views are incredible.
My favorite way to do this ride, however, is all the way to Refugio Beach State Park. Students from Dunn Middle School make this trek each spring and enjoy a swim and picnic at the park afterwards. Why not con a few friends who haven’t been out to Solvang for a while to drive you over to the valley and then pick you up on the other side at the beach? Perfection is getting them to bring the picnic supplies with them too!