The upper part of the Agua Caliente drainage contains very relaxing hot springs, beautiful sandstone formations, and a huge debris dam. Beyond the dam the country has a wild and romantic feel to it. This is one of my favorite places.
1. Follow Gibraltar Road for seven miles to East Camino Cielo.
2. Turn right. Follow the crest road for 5.8 miles to Romero Saddle.
3. Drop down an additional 4.6 miles on the rough dirt road until you reach Juncal Campground.
4. Continue past the camp an additional 3 miles until you reach the intersection with the road leading to Pendola Hot Springs.
5. Park near the intersection or turn right, go past the ranger station and drive 4 miles to the end of the road at the hot springs.
Mileage Log From the Top of Gibraltar Road
0.0 Intersection of Camino Cielo and Gibraltar roads
3.0 Cold Springs/Forbush Flats trailheads
3.2 San Ysidro trailhead
5.8 Romero Saddle
7.0 Start of the Divide Peak ORV trailhead
7.6 Escondido Creek
9.0 Blue Canyon trailhead
10.4 Juncal Camp
13.4 Agua Caliente Canyon/Pendola Ranger Station
13.5 Mid-Santa Ynez Camp
14.1 P-Bar Flats Camp
14.7 Access road to Santa Ynez River
17.0 Mono Camp/Debris Dam
18.0 Mono Creek Road/Little Caliente Hot Springs
19.2 Indian Creek trailhead
19.3 Locked Gate/Beginning of the Camuesa Road
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:
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.
Agua Caliente is the name of this canyon—the place of the warm water. For me the water temperature is about perfect—105 degrees at the hottest. But while many people know about the Big Caliente Hot Springs, very few know that one of Santa Barbara’s nicest canyons is to be found above them.
The canyon is composed of two major drainages—Devil’s Canyon and Agua Caliente proper. Both have exquisite sandstone formations in them, with narrow, steep-walled sections that are almost like works of art. To reach these you will need to do some scrambling.
The first 3 miles of the ride from the Ranger Station is on a dirt road which is almost level and follows Agua Caliente Creek. The river bottom is fairly open at first but after the first mile the canyon narrows. Several river crossings bring you to the hot springs. There is a changing area there (if you’ve brought a swim suit) and the tub itself is a square cement pool about 10’ x 10’.
Beyond the parking area the dirt road turns into a trail. This marks the beginning of the upper canyon. As you start up the trail, look across the creek and about 150’ up the side of the mountain. This is actually where the hot springs are located. The water is piped down to the cement pool where people bathe. A friendly reminder in the winter—when you use the hot springs, don’t turn the water from the springs off completely. Allowing even a little of the water to flow through the pipes keeps it from freezing and damaging the pipes.
The single track from the hot springs leads along the left side of the canyon for a half mile then crosses the creek and climbs up the right side of Big Caliente Debris Dam, built to help keep sediment from spilling down into Gibraltar Reservoir. The grade is fairly gentle and easy to ride and there is a great swimming hole at the base of the dam.
Beyond the dam is a mile of wonderful riding through a forest of cottonwoods (los alamos in Spanish). Just beyond this you'll cross to the left side of Agua Caliente Creek. In a hundred yards, Devil’s Canyon comes in from the right. I like hiking up into this drainage though you will have to scramble up the creek to do so.
The main trail continues up Agua Caliente Canyon, which turns sharply to the left. The canyon is relatively narrow and has a wilderness quality to it that I appreciate. The narrows are interspersed with open, grassy meadows which make this an extremely beautiful canyon. A mile up you’ll find a small overnight spot, Agua Caliente Camp, which provides a great base from which to explore the upper canyon. Two more miles of relatively level riding (or hiking) brings you to the upper canyon and a series of exquisite sandstone formations. One note—you will have to walk your bike through a number of stream crossings. But when you get back to your car at the end of your ride, a great hot tub awaits you.