The route to Jameson Reservoir and beyond to Billiard Flats provides a leisurely ride into the upper end of the Santa Ynez drainage. Beyond the flats the riding is much more demanding. The reservoir is picturesque, and on the north side large slabs of sandstone provide a scenic backdrop. Alder Creek is located in a small but very pretty canyon that is filled with its namesake—alder trees. A short spur leads to this enchanting place. If you arrange a shuttle, you can ride all the way to Ojai.
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 (closed), which is located just across the Santa Ynez River. Due to the closure, you will need to park at least a quarter-mile away on either side of the camp.
4. The road leading to Jameson Reservoir is directly behind (east of) the camp.
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
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.
The lower part of the ride begins at the back of what was formerly Juncal Campground at a locked gate and follows a graded dirt road up the left side of the canyon for 2.5 miles to the reservoir. This section has a scattering of oak trees, meadows, and, if the reservoir is spilling, a crystal-clear creek. Near the base of the reservoir you’ll encounter the only major climb, a 300-foot elevation gain that brings you to the right side of the lake, which is owned by the Montecito Water District. From this point, the road continues along the water’s edge, eventually leading to the upper end of the watershed at a saddle known as Murrieta Divide.
About a half-mile from the dam, look for a side road leading down to the right. This is the turnoff to Alder Creek. You’ll know you’re near when you see the water flume leading from the creek. This makes a good destination if you are looking for a shorter ride, and, if you bring the BOB or panniers, it is an excellent spot for an overnight stop. It is a quarter-mile to the mouth of Alder Canyon and the beginning of a beautiful hike featuring pools, waterfalls, and an abundance of creekside vegetation.
The reservoir road leading toward Murrieta Divide continues to the east, dropping a bit, then climbing back up near the end of the lake. This area is known as Billiard Flats and is composed of open meadows and rolling hills. Beyond the flats, the canyon narrows and the real climbing begins. The last two miles to Murrieta Divide are tough.
Fortunately, about halfway up this steep section you will find a delightful camp with a year-round water supply—Upper Santa Ynez Campground. It is shady, with several large oaks covering the camp, and there are a number of beautiful sandstone rocks you can lean against while having lunch. Some of the rocks have bedrock mortars, a reminder that the Chumash also used this area frequently.
Beyond the camp the riding is tough, but not quite as steep as the previous section. You will be able to ride almost all of it. Then, suddenly, you come over one last hill and you are at the Divide, a wide, flat opening with views leading all the way across to the Topatopa Mountains.
If you’ve made arrangements with very, very good friends to pick you up in Ojai at the day’s end, you can actually continue east down into the Matilija Creek drainage. This eventually leads to Highway 33 about five miles above Ojai. Down the canyon you will find a second overnight camp—Murrieta Campground—if you would like to spend the night.
I try to do this ride every year, though I don’t always make it. This year I did, with my friend Paul Cronshaw. It was December, a few days before Christmas, a perfect sunny day with temperatures in the upper 60s. We started from the top of Gibraltar Road, cruised across East Camino Cielo to Romero Saddle and then down Pendola Road to Juncal in about an hour and a half, with plenty of time of stop for the views. We were in Ojai almost exactly six hours later, a bit tired but thoroughly excited by the adventure.