This is an excellent loop involving a relatively small amount of uphill, but providing you with incredible views of Hollister Ranch. The mile-long ridgeline provides wonderful scenery and a very relaxing series of knolls to hike along. It is possible to go all the way to the beach. An old firebreak that parallels Highway 1 leads off toward Lompoc.
1. From the Fairview overpass in Goleta, drive 26.3 miles north on Highway 101 to the Highway 1 turnoff, one mile beyond the Gaviota tunnel.
2.Turn left onto Highway 1 and head west for .7 miles to San Julian Road.
3. Turn left, then left again on the frontage road, and drive 0.8 mile past Vista de las Cruces School to the locked gate.
4. Do not block the gate.
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:
If there is one place I most like to go in the springtime, this is it. The name is deceptive. You will be riding on an old fire road, but it has been allowed to mellow until it is more a wide path than roadway. The grasses grow in the road, as do the flowers in the spring months, and you will find the road to be more like twin paths paralleling each other. I find it nice to ride side by side and talk with your fellow travelers.
There are two choices you can make about how you want to reach the top of the main ridge, and you will need to decide on one of them just a hundred yards beyond the locked gate. What it boils down to is whether you want to take the high road or the low one on the way out. Both are good choices.
The Low Route
The low route leads to the left, a single track which follows the creek and parallels the freeway for three-fourths mile to a point where you are right below the radio tower. There are a series of ups and downs as you cross small canyons. Regardless of whether you ride this section on the way out or as you are heading back, you will need to walk a few of the uphills. Once the trail opens out to become a road you will have one short and very steep uphill, bringing you up into a large oak-filled meadow. Not too far beyond this, the road begins to climb through a series of switchbacks up to the main ridgeline.
Near the top of the ridge a turnoff on the right will take you back along the Hollister Fire Road and then down to your car. This is the way you will eventually want to go.
However, the ride out to the radio tower, which looks directly down on the freeway from above the tunnel, is well worth the effort. There are oak trees everywhere,, and it is like riding under a canopy. Occasionally there are glimpses out at the far hills of the San Julian and Las Cruces ranches.
As you are riding, look for a trail leading off to the right as you head up through the oak forests. This challenging route provides a mile of Level 3 single track almost straight down a stony ridge to Gaviota Beach—which would be an excellent ride if you had a way to get back to your car; I wouldn’t recommend riding on the freeway.
To reach the radio tower, continue east on the road. Beyond the trail intersection the road leads up a slight incline for a hundred yards out of the oak forests to magnificent views to the west and north. On the western horizon you will spot a long, open ridgeline which seems to lead off into the far horizon. This is the Hollister Fire Road, the route you will be taking back.
Looking east, in the direction of the radio tower, you can spot the jeepway yo-yoing up and down across a narrow ridge. In the spring there are clusters of paintbrush and hummingbird sage and hillsides filled with blue-eyed grass and light purple brodiaea. Gaviota Peak looms high overhead.
The last quarter-mile is one of the most delightful you will find anywhere. From the radio tower, the ridge drops off almost vertically on all three sides, leaving you feeling like you are on the edge of nothing. You almost are. Look for the small trail on the north side of the ridge leading a few yards through the chaparral to a sitting rock. I think you will find this to be one of the nicest places in these mountains to sit for a while and ponder things.
The High Road
The quickest way to the top of the ridge is by continuing straight ahead on the fire road. The path rises gently at first up onto the hillside; then a short, steep climb starts the juices flowing and brings with it very nice views across the countryside. As you come up around a corner, however, you will discover all is not peaches and cream: right in front of you is a long, seemingly neverending climb that will take you to the top of the ridge.
It is a tough climb. Few will make it all the way up without stopping to catch their breath or walk a bit. But it gets you up to the top quickly, and suddenly you are on Hollister Ridge looking out over thousands of acres of beautiful rolling hills and misty canyons, and the all effort seems worth it.
Once you are on top you can head either left or right. The main trail leads left toward the ocean, following a long swayback of a ridge that drops gently for a bit then climbs toward a series of knolls. To the right you’ll spot a ridgeline which heads in a westerly direction. The road leading toward it drops down across a small creek and then climbs several hundred yards toward an interesting set of rock formations which are worth exploring if you have time. You can continue beyond the sandstone rocks as well. The road isn’t in as good condition as the fire road, but it leads to the westerly ridge. It has a lot of ups and downs, but it provides an opportunity to see more of the Hollister Ranch from its high viewpoints. At one of these viewpoints you’ll come to the end of the Gaviota State Park lands, which is marked by a locked gate.
The ride most bikers take leads along the main ridge toward the ocean. The old road is almost entirely covered with grass, and the ruts are just enough to make a parallel set of paths for you to ride on. This is fabulous country. The crown of the ridge consists of open grass and magnificent old oak trees. Not surprisingly, you will find yourself lost in the views, of which there are hundreds, as you bob up and down over the hillsides.
It is a bit more than a half-mile to a short but steep climb leading you up onto a higher part of the ridge. The views here are even better. The road then drops gradually to a saddle, climbs again, and cuts across the right side of a hill before dropping back down to a final saddle. This will take you down to the low route and back to your car. Look for the turnoff leading up to the radio tower (see previous description) before you begin the drop down from the ridge. It’s definitely worth the side trip.