This route follows trails almost never used by horse riders or hikers, though you should always be on the lookout for them. It combines riding along the Santa Ynez River to Gibraltar Dam, a steady effort up the road to Angostura Pass, and a rewarding downhill on the North Tunnel and Matias Potrero trails back to the picnic area, where you can enjoy a lovely swim and a well-deserved barbecue.
From Lower Oso continue up the Santa Ynez River for 2.5 miles to the Live Oak Day Use area.
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:
From the picnic area, ride several miles up Paradise Road until you reach the Red Rock parking area. I usually take the high road to Gibraltar Dam because it is a little bit quicker. Just beyond the dam the road up to Angostura Pass begins.
Follow the road past the turnoff to Gibraltar Mine. The first mile is steep. When you ride through a window cut in a thin layer of limestone (Sierra Blanca) the pedaling eases off. This is a good spot to take a break and enjoy the view west down the fault line, which is clearly visible.
A few minutes of pedaling beyond the limestone ridge brings you to a downhill section marked by a series of sandstone ledges and boulders. This is the great lunch stop. It is easy to make your way up onto the boulders, and there are plenty of places to perch for a snack, refreshments, and the opportunity to check out Gidney Narrows, which is just over the crest.
Beyond the saddle the road begins to climb again, circling around the upper end of Devil’s Canyon. There are a number of small creeks filled with bay trees (and sometimes even water) that provide coolness and pleasant aroma. As you look up above you it seems like you can see the point at which the North Tunnel Trail starts, but as you round each point there always seems to be another one looming up ahead. Fortunately the road is easy to ride and not too steep; nevertheless, at some point you’ll wonder if you are ever going to get there.
Five miles from the dam you finally reach the trailhead. It is marked with one of those skinny fiberglass Forest Service signs, so you’ll need to look for it carefully. North Tunnel Trail drops down into Devil’s Canyon and eventually joins the Matias Potrero Trail, which follows the Santa Ynez Fault for miles. While it is possible to continue across the entire length of the Matias Potrero Trail to Arroyo Burro Road, two connector trails along the way lead down to the Santa Ynez River and provide better loop possibilities. One is in Devil’s Canyon; the other is near Live Oak picnic area (where you parked).
The Devil’s Canyon Trail intersects the Matias Potrero Trail about 1.5 miles down. This short route leads to the Santa Ynez River near the base of Gibraltar Dam. From there you can ride down the river past Red Rock and back to the picnic area. To do so, turn right at the Devil’s Canyon intersection and continue 1.5 miles across the grassy slopes and through the picturesque narrows to the dam.
My preference is to continue on Matias Potrero Trail. It is a bit shorter but, more importantly, it allows you continue single-track riding all the way back to your car. From Devil’s Canyon, Matias Potrero Trail continues for 2.5 miles along the fault and a number of grassy ridges to the spur leading down to Live Oak picnic area. You may notice a number of burned-out areas on the way. These are the result of prescribed burns conducted by the Forest Service.
The spur road is fairly obvious, and from there it is a mile down to Paradise Road. Ride slowly. The dirt spur is rutted, and loose rocks make it a bit tricky, especially the last one hundred yards. Live Oak is two hundred yards to the right on Paradise Road.