Bicycle Sportive
Tours International


Hidden Gem: Refugio Rd Hill Climb

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Quiet roads, chirping birds and spectacular views. Steep slopes, tight hairpins and burning thighs. If you like riding uphill, the Refugio Road ascent is arguably one of Santa Barbara’s best kept secrets. Gibraltar and Painted Cave are fantastic but the steep and scenic ride up Refugio is one to remember.

Entering the forest near the base of the climb

Entering the desolate forest on Refugio Road near the base of the climb.

Before you go

Check your brakes! The descent is very demanding and you’ll be wearing down your brake pads a fair bit on this one. The grade gets you up to some fast speeds very quickly and the surface of the road is pretty rough.

How to get there

Refugio Road is about 35 km west of Santa Barbara. Two bike route route options out of town are on Cathedral Oaks Road and Hollister Avenue. When these roads hit Hwy 101, take the straight shot to Refugio Road along the shoulder. It’s about 25 km (approx 15 miles) of smooth pavement – quite a contrast to what you’ll be riding when you turn off the highway.

The climb

From the highway, you will ride through orchards and ranch lands for about approximately 5 km before you turn skyward. The real climbing begins once you pass the Circle Bar B Guest Ranch and it comes at you fast – the early parts are the steepest at around 15%.

Abandoned tractor in the early stages. This was the only vehicle we saw on this day!

Abandoned tractor in the early stages. It might be the only vehicle you encounter!

Stats (Refugio Rd Section):

From Highway to Camino Cielo: 11 km (680 m elevation gain)

Main climb: 8.6% for 6 km

Steepest section: 10.0% for 3.8 km

First km of climbing: Just under 15%

February clouds coming in off the Pacific.

February clouds coming in off the Pacific.

Optional extension

You can make a right onto West Camino Cielo at the top of the climb for a very scenic and less aggressive 10 km stretch to Santa Ynez Peak and an abandoned observatory. This will bring total elevation gain to approximately 1,200 m.

Stats (W Camino Cielo Section):

5.8% for 10 km (530 m elevation gain)

1,300 m elevation at summit

Two steep sections with a small descent in the middle


Lindsay Carswell
Founder, Bicycle Sportive Tours International

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