Forbush Flats Loop -

The Best Santa Barbara Mountain Biking

Ride Log
On the Ride


Difficulty: Difficult • Paved or Dirt: Dirt Path • Mileage: 12.5
Elevation Gain: 2900 ft. •

The Forbush Flats Trail provides access to the entire upper Santa Ynez River canyon as well as to routes into the Red Rock and Lower Oso areas. The trail provides excellent single track and the possibility of an overnight stay at either Forbush Flats, Cottam, or one of several camps on the Santa Ynez River. With a shuttle, you can ride to Lower Oso, or make a long loop via Blue Canyon.

Ride Details

  • Cautions : You will meet other users on the trail. Please keep your speed down an assume someone is around every corner.
  • Use Fees : None
  • Length : 2 miles to Forbush Flat; 4 miles to Gibraltar Trail; 4.5 miles to Santa Ynez River; 5.5 miles to Mono Debris Dam; 1.8 miles from Forbush Flat to Cottam Camp; 4 miles from Cottam to top of Blue Canyon. It is 12 miles to Red Rock via the Forbush and Gibraltar trails.
  • Gain : 1075’ loss to Forbush Flats; 2100’ total drop to the river. There is a 120’ climb out of Forbush Flats before the drop down to the river. From Forbush Flats it is a 970’ drop down to Cottam and a 550’ gain up the Blue Canyon Trail. If you cross the river and return via Pendola Road you will climb over two ridges (430’ and 260’) before the final 1,600’ climb back to your car (1,200’ on dirt to Romero Saddle and the last 400’ on pavement to the Forbush Flats trailhead)
  • Difficulty : oderate to strenuous, depending on route chosen; Level 2 riding down to the camp. You will need to push your bike up over the hill before the ride down to the river. The lower section has some Level 3 sections but is mostly Level 2 single track. The ride from Forbush Flats down to Cottam is Level 2 single track. If you continue up Blue Canyon you will need to walk several sections and most of the creek crossings, but a lot of it is rideable.
  • Path : The Forbush Flats Trail is in very good shape above the camp and moderately good below it. There are several slumps near Gibraltar Trail. Both the Gibraltar and Mono trails have been brushed recently and are in good shape. Check web site for updates.

Find Other Similar Trails

Difficulty: Difficult
Points of Interests: CanyonsCreeksLoop TripViewpoint
User Types: HikersEquestriansDog WalkersTrail RunnersBackpackers

Links & Resources

Get Directions To The Forbush Flats Loop Trailhead

Driving Directions
Get Directions to Forbush Flats Loop which is located at 34.486113,-119.636478.

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Access / Parking

To reach the Forbush Flats Trail follow Gibraltar Road 6.5 miles to East Camino Cielo, then turn right and drive another 3.75 miles to the trailhead, which is opposite the top end of Cold Springs Trail. These trails are at a saddle just after a downhill section of road. A trail sign on the left and a cement water tank on the right of the road should make it easy to spot. 

Ride Log

Expectations for Riding 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


The Forbush Flats Trail (a continuation of the Cold Springs Trail) offers access to a number of parts of the upper Santa Ynez Valley and day loops, shuttle trips, or overnighters, depending on the type of arrangements you make. 

Originally this was one of the main thoroughfares into the back country, leading from Montecito through the upper part of the Santa Ynez drainage, along Mono Creek, and over a window in the San Rafael range known as the Puerto Suelo to Santa Barbara Canyon and the Cuyama Valley.

The Cold Springs Trail feeds into the entire upper and lower Santa Ynez recreation areas. By bicycle, the number of loop or shuttle possibilities is almost unlimited. With appropriate gear it would even be possible to ride to within ten miles of Santa Maria, the upper end of the Cuyama Valley, or to within a few miles of Ojai and not once cross a paved road. 

The first two miles of the trail lead through chaparral to Forbush Flats, dropping a thousand feet in elevation (meaning that you won’t want to go back up the trail). The camp is pleasant, well shaded ,and at the foot of Gidney Creek, which often flows year round, though not always. Nearby is a small meadow, complete with an aging apple orchard, courtesy of Fred Forbush, who built a cabin here about 1910. 

The camp is situated on top of the Santa Ynez Fault, which cuts directly through it, forming the crease along which Gidney Creek flows. Due to the uplifting which has occurred here, numerous layers of bedrock rich in fossils are exposed here, making this an amateur geologist’s paradise.

A trail intersection lies just north of the meadow. The main trail continues north, up over a 120-foot-high ridge and then down another 1,050 feet in elevation loss over 2.5 miles to the Santa Ynez River. Along the way are more fossils and a pool or two for refreshment. The best of these spots is known as the Emerald Pools and is worth an hour or so of your time if the water is warm enough.

Near the bottom of the trail you’ll find the end of the Gibraltar Trail, which leads to Gibraltar Reservoir and eventually Red Rock. This makes a great ride if you have a shuttle set up. Some riders may even be in good enough shape to ride back up Angostura Pass Road and then back along the crest to their cars.

If you want to make this a long loop, continue down to the river, follow the left bank fifty yards downstream, then cross over to the Mono Trail. Several hundred yards of easy riding along the river bring you to the mouth of Mono Creek. This part of the canyon is filled with cottonwoods and is beautiful. Mono Trail follows the right side of the creek upstream a mile to Mono Campground. This was once a fairly popular car camp, but you can no longer drive into it, which has lessened its popularity. To reach the campsites you will need to walk your gear in, which makes it a great place for bike camping. Nearby you’ll also find Mono Debris Dam, where there is an incredible water slide, and it isn’t too far to Little Caliente Hot Springs either. 

For the return trip, some riders will want to continue on Pendola Road across Mono and Indian Creeks and then take Camuesa Road to Upper Oso Campground. Camuesa Canyon is very pretty in the springtime, and the uphill isn’t too difficult. Others will want to turn right on Pendola Road and follow it past P-Bar Flats and Mid Santa Ynez campgrounds, eventually climbing back up to Romero Saddle and then to the car.

But this makes for a really long day ride. A shorter version of this ride leads down through Cottam. If anything, the single track down the connector from Forbush Flats to Cottam is even better than the lower part of the main trail, and you’ll find the camp, which is situated in a large meadow, to be a very nice spot for lunch. For the longer loop, continue downstream from Cottam, across the river to P-Bar Flats, and then back on the road; or, if you’d rather continue on single track, head up the Blue Canyon Trail. There are a number of places where you’ll have to walk, and several washouts which require some scrambling to get around, but otherwise you’ll be able to ride a lot of it.


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Last Updated: Sunday, August 24, 2014