All Trails Lead to this Hidden Gem

Eugene Kim
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Every weekend hundreds of in-the-know folks and a few lucky ramblers find themselves kicking back to some afternoon blues music with a beef sandwich in one hand and a brew in the other. If you’ve never included the Cold Spring Tavern in your adventure agenda, you’re missing out, but you're certainly not alone. It’s not surprising that many locals and visitors alike drive right past this secluded, Sycamore-shaded settlement off of San Marcos Pass completely unaware of its existence. Yet its rustic, hidden-gem character on the historic Stagecoach Road is one of many factors that so consistently attract people to trek off the beaten path to this tavern in the woods.

There are two kinds of experiences to have once you’ve reached the Tavern, depending on which time of the week you visit. A weekday outing typically involves a quiet and fine dining experience inside the kerosene-lit cabin that retains its original look as a romantic glimpse into the past. Some unique menu items may include rabbit, venison, duck, buffalo, and other wild game. Weekends, on the other hand, offer a more rugged outdoor atmosphere with good blues music, smoke-billowing BBQ pits, lots of motorcycles, and good beer. No matter when you stop by, the Cold Spring Tavern will transport you away from everyday life and into a slice of the simple-life from the past – trust us, you won’t want to leave!

Located at least 20 minutes from upper State Street, the Tavern is not exactly convenient for an easy meal, so RootsRated has paired five of our favorite nearby destinations, so that you can enjoy an adventuresome day followed by a scrumptious stop for good grog and grub.

1. Old San Marcos Pass to Painted Cave Road

So what if 99 percent of the bikers at Cold Spring Tavern wear tasseled leather, not sweaty Lycra. If you take this cycling route to the tavern, not only will you turn some heads at the biker bar, but your Tri-Tip sandwich and beer will have the satisfying taste that can only be earned after climbing an 8.3 percent grade on your road bike. It’s best to start at Tucker’s Grove, climb Old San Marcos Pass, cross the 154 highway, continue up Painted Cave Road, then turn left at the top on East Camino Cielo. Take East Camino Cielo down to re-connect with the 154 highway. Be very careful continuing down the 154 as it is very dangerous for bikes, but the left turn on Stagecoach Road is not far. For a one way trip have someone meet you with a car at the Tavern, but you could always do an out-n-back and drive yourself.

2. Tequepis Trail

Tony Hisgett

The closest trail to the Cold Spring Tavern, Tequepis may be accessed from the top (on West Camino Cielo past Lizard’s Mouth , on the right) or the bottom (turn left near Lake Cachuma off 154 onto Forest Route 6N04). We recommend doing an out-and-back starting at the bottom, then cruising back up the 154 to relax and refresh at the Tavern. The smooth single-track trail is best suited for mountain biking, trail running, and hiking. Total mileage and elevation gain for the out-and-back is 9 miles and 3000 feet, so all your climbing on the way out is rewarded with a speedy downhill on the way back.

3. Camuesa Connector

This well-marked trail is a perfect sampling of backcountry mountain biking. It includes a few miles of climbing, a few miles of rolling hills, and a few miles of downhill divided into 20 percent fire road, 60 percent singletrack, and 20 percent paved road to finish the loop. Total mileage for the loop is around 10 miles, but this ride can be easily paired with Little Pine Mountain for more mileage. If it’s hot, don’t miss the opportunity to cool off in the Santa Ynez river with swimming holes in the Red Rocks area.

4. Little Pine Mountain

Some of the most easily accessible backpacking near Santa Barbara also doubles as epic mountain biking routes. Offering 16 miles of fire road and single track, Little Pine is the perfect prelude to a hearty meal at Cold Spring Tavern. What could be better than a mouth watering Tri-Tip sandwich and ice cold beer after wearing yourself out with an overnight backpacking excursion or 16+ mile mountain bike ride? Little Pine continues to the left after you pass the Camuesa Connector turn on the right. Be sure to bring plenty of water as it can be very hot and dry back here and while it can be there in wetter years, you shouldn’t count on being able to find potable water along the trail.

5. Red Rocks

Courtney Johnson

Best known as a swimming hole at the end of Paradise Rd. with great places to cool-off in the heat or jump-off for a thrill, Red Rocks also offers some good hiking, trail running, and mountain biking. We recommend swimming here to cool off if it’s hot, but the trails around Red Rock are also quite beautiful. A 4-mile loop takes you behind the swimming holes to Gibraltar Dam and back on the fire road.

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