This is one of the best high-country rides in the tri-counties area, with most of the riding along the crest of the mountains separating Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Though the riding is almost all on dirt road the sense of being far, far away from everything provides a feeling of being in wild country. Excellent for overnight camping, either along the crest if you bring enough water or in one of the campgrounds on the Santa Ynez River.
1. Take Highway 101 south to Ventura. Alternately you can take Casitas Pass Road (Hy 150) to the Ojai area.
2. Turn north on Highway 33 to follow this for 13.1 miles to Meiner's Oaks.
3. Turn left and continue on Highway 33 for 31.5 miles to the Pine Mountain Summit.
4. Look for a large dirt parking area on the left just before the summit.
5. The Potrero Seco ride begins just beyond the locked 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:
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 first time I rode across the high country from Potrero Seco to Montecito I did it the hard way, via the Hildreth ridge. Little did I know how difficult it would be. The riding from Highway 33 to the Hildreth turnoff was easy. There was a short climb up onto the ridge, and from that point the next several miles to Potrero Seco was either level or slightly downhill. Piece of cake, I thought.
Once I reached Potrero Seco the road turned from a westerly direction to a due south course and began to climb. Still, the riding was easy. The views were spectacular: To the east I could see Pine Mountain and the Topatopas; to the west Big Pine and the Madulce cliffs. What a great place to ride.
It was five miles from Highway 33 to the Hildreth turnoff and I made it in less than an hour. So far, so good. I could have continued toward Monte Arrido, and part of me wanted to head that way; but I had come up from the other side and dropped down the Pendola Jeepway not too long before that, and I wanted to cover new territory. What a mistake. The Hildreth Jeepway is a road only a bulldozer operator could love.
Needless to say I haven’t been back on it since, but that experience hasn’t changed my feelings about the Potrero Seco ride; it is one of Santa Barbara’s best.
The ridgeline that encompasses the high country between Potrero Seco and Murrieta Divide is twelve miles long and ranges from 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet for most of this distance. The riding along it is actually relatively mellow for most of the way, but—as with most Santa Barbara ridgelines—you will find yourself climbing and dropping quite a bit as you head over each of the knolls. There are five or six of these gains, each of them from 200 feet to 300 feet.
When you reach the Three Sisters you will be about halfway to Monte Arrido in terms of distance, but in terms of effort much closer because the last 6.7 miles are almost all downhill. Beyond the Three Sisters there is a long climb which will take you from 5,100 feet to 5,600 feet and another 400-foot gain just before the Pendola Jeepway.
The climbs will get tiring, but there are so many places to stop, enjoy the views, and relax that you shouldn’t have any problem getting to the turnoff. This is the point where you will need to decide what route to take if you are riding all the way to Montecito. Continuing ahead over Monte Arrido is the easiest course. The views are spectacular, especially along Old Man Mountain, and the downhill is a screamer; from the top of Monte Arrido to Jameson Reservoir you will drop more than 4,000 feet. Wow!
The ride down Pendola Jeepway is pretty exciting too, and a bit wilder country, so it’s a tough decision. My guess is that, whichever of the two you decide to take, you’ll like it enough to want to come back and do the other.
The last section from Old Man Mountain down to Murrieta Divide is extremely fast. You will need to take care to keep your speed in check if you want to make all of the corners. For those who are doing the “short” ride, turn left (east) at the divide and head down into the Matilija Creek drainage. It is very steep for the first half-mile, but after that the riding is great. It is three miles down to pavement and five miles on Matilija Canyon Road to Highway 33.
Turn right (west) of you are going in the direction of Jameson Reservoir. The next two miles drop like an elevator down to Billiard Flats, and most likely the adrenaline rush will help you get up the 250-foot climb leading out of the Santa Ynez drainage and into the Alder Creek watershed.
The next mile leads along the reservoir. This is a beautiful ride, with lots of grassy hills and loads of wildflowers in the springtime. Why not stay for a bit and enjoy the lakeside scenery; rest and save a bit of energy for the climb up to Romero Saddle, which is only a few miles ahead of you.
It is a bit of a grind after the spectacular ridge views and downhill riding you have just been doing, but it is only 4.6 miles to the top. Once you are there you’ll have another 2,000 feet of downhill cruising awaiting you, the perfect way to cap off the perfect ride.