Arroyo Burro-Northside -

The Best Santa Barbara Mountain Biking

Ride Log
On the Ride


Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult • Paved or Dirt: Dirt Path • Mileage: 20
Elevation Gain: 3000 ft. •

Arroyo Burro Trail leads down to the Santa Ynez River to a point just above Lower Oso picnic area. Though there are some tough sections of single track (they can be easily walked), the route provides excellent riding down a picturesque canyon. The ride can be made either as a loop by continuing west on Paradise Road and eventually up past Cold Springs Tavern to Cielo Store or by returning back up Arroyo Burro Road.

Ride Details

  • Cautions : You may meet other users on the trail. Please keep your speed down an assume someone is around every corner.
  • Use Fees : None
  • Length : 7.75 miles; Cielo Store loop 20 miles.
  • Gain : 1,300’ gain from the pass to the VOR; 450’ loss to Arroyo Burro Saddle; 1,650’ drop down the trail to the intersection with Arroyo Burro Road; 400’ loss from intersection to the river. Total loss from crest to river 2045’. Elevation gain of 1,650’ back to crest from the lower trailhead on the dirt road.
  • Difficulty : Moderately strenuous to very strenuous, depending on total distance. First half is pavement. Trail is Level 2 single track with a number of Level 3 sections closer to the top. Extreme exposure in several places. Walk sections you are not completely comfortable with riding.
  • Path : Arroyo Burro Road is in good condition and the trail is relatively open but does have several sections where there are dangerous drop-offs.

Find Other Similar Trails

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Points of Interests: CanyonsCreeksLoop TripViewpoint
User Types: EquestriansDog WalkersTrail Runners

Links & Resources

Get Directions To The Arroyo Burro North Bike Ride Trailhead

Driving Directions
Get Directions to Arroyo Burro-Northside which is located at 34.524803,-119.795952.

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Access / Parking

Follow Highway 154 for seven miles to San Marcos Pass. Turn right on East Camino Cielo and park near Cielo Store. Please park along the road rather than in the store’s parking area. To reach Arroyo Burro Road, continue for 5.5 miles across East Camino Cielo to the saddle where Arroyo Burro intersects with the paved road.


Ride Log

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:

  1. Have a bike bell so other trail users know you are approaching.
  2. Keep your speed down; practice riding techniques that minimize impacts.
  3. Good braking means never having to skid. Do not lock up your brakes.
  4. Approach switchbacks with caution and brake well before you reach them.
  5. Stay on the designated tread. The front country trails are multi-use, not a race course.
  6. Ride with other trail users in mind and enhance rather than interfere with their enjoyment.
  7. Always assume there is another trail user around each corner.
  8. Yield the right-of-way to uphill trail users. Stop and dismount if necessary to allow them to pass.
  9. When approaching equestrians, dismount and ask them what they want you to do.
  10. Be courteous. Smile and say something friendly to everyone you encounter.


On The Ride

Beginning at Cielo Store, Arroyo Burro Road provides another enjoyable possibility, though a bit more strenuous than the Knapp’s loop. Not only is this an exhilarating bike ride, but it can be combined with a picnic or swim along the Santa Ynez River. 

Ride (or drive) 5.5 miles from Cielo Store to Arroyo Burro Saddle, where the Arroyo Burro dirt road leads down the backside of the mountains into the Santa Ynez Valley. Several hundred yards down the road, Arroyo Burro Trail (difficult to see, so watch closely for it) leads left down into a small drainage. Initially, the trail leads through chamise chaparral, then begins to drop somewhat steeply into the main canyon. Along some sections the trail is exposed, with long tumbles awaiting the rider who falls off the trail. Walk, don’t ride, these parts.

Though the upper section of the trail is rarely used by equestrians, there is a horse camp at the bottom. Ride slowly and enjoy the canyon’s beauty, and please watch carefully for others on the trail. 

Near the bottom at a trail split, turn right and cross the creek. This leads to an intersection with Arroyo Burro Road. Either head back uphill on the dirt road (if your car is parked at the top) or follow the road downhill a mile to the river. When you reach the river, most likely you’ll find a large pool blocking your path. Depending on rainfall, you may have to wade through while carrying your bike, or if the pool isn’t too long, you may be able to get around it by walking around the lower end. 

In any case, this is a sensitive habitat area for red-legged frogs, so be very careful where you step and create as little disturbance as possible.

To complete your loop, either head back up Arroyo Burro Road or continue across the river and up to Paradise Road, then turn left and follow it to Cold Springs Road, the Tavern, and eventually Cielo Store.

If you’ve brought a shuttle car down to Lower Oso and you want to extend your ride, another possibility when you get to the bottom of the trail is to head back up Arroyo Burro Road to the Matias Potrero Trail and ride it out to the Live Oak picnic area and then back to the car. The elevation gain up to the trailhead is 500 feet, which is a bit of a climb, but once you are on the trail you’ll forget about how hard it was almost immediately as you cruise east through the grassy knolls.

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Last Updated: Sunday, August 24, 2014