The beautiful narrow gorge in upper San Jose Creek, the island views, and exquisite sandstone formations out on West Camino provide a wonderful contrast. There are many places to explore. The ride across West Camino from the end of the pavement to Refugio Pass is the best section of dirt road you can find in the County.
Trip mileage begins at the top of San Marcos Pass
West Camino—San Marcos Pass to Refugio Pass
0.0 San Marcos Pass.
0.1 Kinevan Road. This leads down the upper end of San Jose Creek through a beautiful narrow canyon to West Camino Cielo.
1.0 West Camino Cielo. The turn is sharply to the right and up out of the canyon
3.6 Trail to the Playground (see trail description). You won’t find the trail marked nor exact directions as to how to get there, but if you find the Playground you’ll be glad you took the time.
4.8 Lizard’s Mouth (see trail description). A beautiful field of boulders just a quarter of a mile off the road. You will find the trailhead just before the Winchester Gun Club.
5.0 Road turns to dirt and drops down 500’ in elevation to a saddle which marks the beginning of the main dirt section of West Camino Cielo (see trail description).
12.0 Tequepis Trail turnoff, which is just before Broadcast Peak. The trail leads down to Lake Cachuma (see description).
17.0 Refugio Pass
20.0 Refugio Beach
The sandstone formations, the tall weathered knobs, the long elegant fins, and the soft rounded contours of the Coldwater Sandstone, deposited in cold tidal flats more than 50 million years ago, combine to provide a depth of time not found along the coast. The places made of such sandstone—Lizard’s Mouth, the Playground, the Castle—are to be found out on West Camino Cielo. With a bit of perseverance you may find them, or discover others.
It is a mysterious land out here, and if you continue on, across the entire length of this western part of the Santa Ynez Mountains, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back a century, to a period when this was truly rugged and wild country.
My favorite starting point is from the Cielo Store, though you can certainly begin at the West Camino turnoff. From the store, drop down and across Highway 154 (very carefully) to Kinevan Road. Bear left, then to the right and down into the laurel-covered upper part of San Jose Creek. The next .75 mile is like being dropped into an elfin forest. The canyon is narrow and delicate, with plenty of ferns and moss-covered rocks, and beams of light shining through the canopy.
Near the end of Kinevan make a 270 degree turn and begin the climb up out of the canyon on West Camino Cielo. A series of undulating switch backs bring you abruptly out of the canyon vegetation and into the mint-flavored world of the chaparral.
West Camino is paved for the first 5 miles as it twists its way up onto the Santa Ynez crest. Along the way you’ll gain 800’, thus you’ll need to put in a bit of effort. The best bet is to crank it down into granny gear and enjoy the views on the way up. The sandstone formations tell you when you’re nearing the end of the pavement, as do the rifle range (on the left) and the skeet area (on the right). For those of you who would like to explore Lizard’s Mouth, look for the trailhead on the left, a hundred yards before the rifle range.
If you’re adventurous (and have a mountain bike) try the ride across to Refugio Pass. It’s 12 miles from the pavement’s end to the pass and an absolutely beautiful stretch of country. After the pavement ends, you drop 600’ down to Winchester saddle. Then for the next 7 miles you work your way towards Santa Ynez and Broadcast peaks, gradually gaining elevation along the way. Views out over the San Rafael Mountains and the Channel Islands will keep you occupied while you make the climb, and the 4,000’ drop down to Refugio Sate Park via the pass will give you one of the finest downhill runs you’ve ever experienced. Have a friend (a good friend) drop you off on West Camino and pick you up in the late afternoon at Refugio Beach.