The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Santa Barbara for Adrenaline Junkies

The Camuesa Connector is one of the top mountain bike trails in Santa Barbara.
The Camuesa Connector is one of the top mountain bike trails in Santa Barbara. Patrick Rudolph
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Santa Barbara may be best known for its beaches, but mountain bikers have just as much reason to visit. Just outside of town you can explore the foothills and canyons that snake their way up and down Santa Ynez Mountain range, and the Los Padres National Forest is filled with challenging options. And unlike many parts of the country, nearly all the trails are open to mountain bikers. You’ll find both wide and easy paths perfect for a relaxing ride as well as narrow, technical trails to thrill advanced riders. And chances are you’ll have amazing views of the Pacific no matter where you ride. Here are five of the top trail systems around Santa Barbara that will bring a smile to any mountain biker.

1. Jesusita Trail

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The 7-mile Jesusita Trail, less than five miles from downtown, is one of the most popular mountain bike trails in the Santa Barbara area. It features rocks, switchbacks, and technical sections that make it better better suited for experienced riders. Be prepared to work, as you’ll start with 1,200 feet of put-your-head-down climbing, but at the end you’ll be rewarded with views of the Pacific, the Channel Islands, and the Santa Barbara skyline. Then enjoy the fast and loose descent back down. The trail is also popular among hikers and trail runners, so a bell is recommended for signaling around those blind corners. You’ll find the route is mostly shaded, and you can create a loop by using the Tunnel Trail. Other rides from this trailhead include Cathedral Peak, Seven Falls, and Arlington Peak.

2. Romero Canyon

Romero Canyon, about eight miles from downtown Santa Barbara, is a scenic destination for intermediate and advanced mountain bikers. Riders have two options at Romero Canyon—either take the Romero Fire Road or the singletrack trail. The fire road ranges between moderate to difficult and steep, as you climb up from the Bella Vista Drive trailhead. Rocky patches and washout are common on the road. The technical difficulty is dependent on how long it has been since it was last graded. The views on the way up are quite nice. Many make this route an out and back, turning around at any point on the trail. One way all the way to the top at Romero Saddle/ Camino Cielo Road is 6.8 miles. The other option is the Romero Canyon Trail, a much more rocky technical route. The trail crosses the fire road at about 4.5 miles and at the very top. Mountain bikers will often choose to take the fire road up and the single track trail down. More technical riders will enjoy the rocky sections at the bottom. For a less technical ride, meet the fire road at the Big Tree crossing and take that back down.

3. Camuesa Connector

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The local favorite Camuesa Connector is about 10 miles from Santa Barbara. The nearly 10-mile backcountry loop flows nicely with some switchbacks and a lot of exposure. It's a great option when looking for a ride that will last about an hour to an hour and a half. Park at Upper Oso Campground and enjoy a two-mile climb, before four miles of beautiful singletrack. Finish up with a final four-mile stretch of pavement back to the campground (when done as a loop). The early climbing can be a little tough with some steep switchbacks, but the subsequent singletrack is rolling with great descents, as well as a few solid climbs.

4. Tequepis Trail

The Tequepis Trail features some of the smoothest, singletrack in the Santa Barbara region—and it’s only 11 miles from downtown. A lot of mountain bikers shuttle this ride by parking a car at the Gun Club on West Camino Cielo, while others prefer an out-and-back from the Circle V trailhead. It's 9-miles when done this way, which is the perfect distance for a solid, but manageable workout. There's about 3,000 feet of elevation gain, so your lungs will be challenged along the way. With gorgeous views of Cachuma Lake, it is no surprise this is a popular place. For those putting in the work to reach the summit, there are spectacular views of the California coast.

5. Elings Park

Just two miles from downtown Santa Barbara, Elings Park is an excellent option for beginning mountain bikers. The 230-acre, non-profit park is actually the largest privately funded park in the country. For locals, it’s a favorite after-work/evening ride that is easily accessible from the Mesa or from downtown via bike. The trails are designed in a system of loops, and you can cover the whole park riding an approximately six miles. You can also pick and choose from harder or easier trails and do a number of laps if you wish. It's a great place for both novices and experienced riders to work on bike handling skills on singletrack. The park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset seven days a week, and the gorgeous ocean views will constantly remind you how great it is to be a mountain biker in Santa Barbara.

Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.

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