The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Santa Barbara: A Guide to Our Backyard
Santa Barbara is a city that brings to mind epic beaches, good weather, and phenomenal seafood. While all of those things are true about the city we call home, there is far more to it than what meets the eye. Here in our rugged canyons an advanced mountain biker can find some of the most technical trails in the country. If that doesn’t suit your riding style there are also a couple of other areas that offer intro to intermediate level riding. Continue reading to learn more about mountain bike trails in Santa Barbara and the adventure that awaits!
Beginner Level Mountain Bike Trails
Ellwood Mesa Sperling Preserve
While there aren’t many places for beginner riding in Santa Barbara, the few places that we do have are incredible. Ellwood Mesa Sperling Preserve is the place to go if you are a beginner looking to gain experience on the dirt. Located along the bluffs in Goleta this preserve is a series of rolling hills and open fields. It is about fifteen minutes outside of Santa Barbara. With few rocks/technical features, the terrain here is perfect for beginner riders.
There are 650 acres of open space on the preserve with sprawling trails in every nook and cranny. You can take a leisurely ride on your bike along the bluff side trail or you can turn it up a notch and adventure into the Eucalyptus grove where more technical riding can be found. If you follow the bluff side trail eventually it will connect to the Deveruex Lagoon. Here you’ll stop at an overlook of a salty marsh filled with water fowl. Along the way you’ll be able to explore the coastal habitat and find more hidden views.
Most trails on this preserve are going to be beginner level with very little downhill or uphill. It is relatively flat and relaxed riding that still provides epic views of both the mountains and the oceans. However, for those who want to challenge themselves we highly recommend exploring the Eucalyptus grove.
You will find what seems to be a labyrinth of trails that weaves its way between trunks, over logs, and under branches. Hidden in the grove are a couple of berms, jumps and wooden features for the more experienced rider. There are a couple of slightly more technical sections involving steeper uphill and downhill slopes. However, for the most part almost all of the trails in Ellwood preserve remain on that beginner level tier.
Douglas preserve is far more simple and small than the Ellwood preserve above. Out of all the mountain bike trails in Santa Barbara it might be the easiest to ride. Located within Santa Barbara city limits near Arroyo Burro beach county park, this preserve is heavily used by dog walkers and sunset lovers alike. Despite this it is still the perfect place for a beginner rider to get some time on the dirt.
The main feature at Douglass preserve is a 1.3 mile loop that rides along the bluffs and through a grove of trees. To add on some extra distance try riding the loop multiple times or adventure onto some of the footpaths that criss-cross the preserve. While this preserve is simple it still provides a basic trail and beautiful views.
Elings park is the largest privately funded park in the nation. It includes a disc golf course, tennis courts, baseball fields, a BMX track, and an incredible mountain bike trail system! Elings park provides some of the local’s favorite mountain bike trails in Santa Barbara. There are several different trails to ride with most of them sitting at the intermediate level and a few that dance around the advanced level.
Positioned perfectly between downtown Santa Barbara and the beach, this park is literally “in town.” Around sunset you’ll often find the locals getting an after-work ride in, walking their dogs, or simply enjoying the views. All of the trails at this park encompass one main hill and there are two entrances that access the trail heads. One entrance is placed at the front of the park off of Jerry Harwin Parkway and the other is located towards the back of the park off of Cliff Drive.
What you find at this park is a small slice of mountain bike heaven. At the top of the hill sits a wide meadow with views of Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez mountains, and the ocean. There is one main downhill run that can be considered advanced with several other intermediate runs on either side. The advanced downhill run is Elings crown jewel featuring several jumps, berms, and drops.
From the bottom of the hill there is about 300 feet of climbing to get back to the top. All of the runs vary in distance. The longest loop is about 5 miles and the downhill track is about 0.7 of a mile. Elings provides a little bit of something for every type of rider!
Tuckers Grove AKA San Antonio Creek Trail
Another great intermediate mountain bike trail in Santa Barbara is Tuckers Grove also commonly called San Antonio Creek Trail. You can find the trailhead off of Cathedral Oaks road in between Goleta and Santa Barbara. The trail head starts out of Tuckers Grove, a community park, then goes up the canyon along San Antonio Creek. Note there will be all sorts of trail goers alongside you, so use a bell!
Overall Tuckers Grove is a very flowy and fun single track. Typically ridden as an out-and-back trail with a total distance of about 3 miles it is a great option for one of the shorter rides in town. You can also ride it as a loop by circling back to the trailhead via nearby roads. Majority of the trail is going to be smooth and fun, but near the top of the canyon there are a series of technical rocky switchbacks. This is a section of trail to test those climbing skills or if you aren’t feeling up to the challenge you can always hike-a-bike the rest of the way up.
One of the most popular and rewarding mountain bike trails in Santa Barbara, Jesusita, is another local favorite. This trail requires skill level to come up a notch and it is highly recommended that only experienced riders tackle this challenge. You will find Jesusita provides the rider with a bounty of different features including roots, stream crossings, technical switchbacks, and several rocky staircases. It can be ridden as an out-and-back trail with a total distance of 7 miles or the rider can choose to make it a loop by starting from the trailhead at Tunnel Road and connecting over to Jesusita. Making it a loop extends your distance to about 12 miles.
If you’re planning on doing the loop we recommend parking your car down at Rocky Nook park and riding up to the Tunnel Road trailhead. From there you will then ride up Tunnel Road, connect over to Jesusita and drop back down into town. After that you will need to ride back to your parked car via neighborhood streets.
Whether you’re starting from the Jesusita trail head or the Tunnel road trailhead prepare yourself for a steep climb. There will be sections where a little bit of hike-a-bike is required. Jesusita is going to challenge you with both technical climbing and technical downhill sections. Get ready to put those skills to the test.
All the hard work you put in on this trail will be well worth the reward. The trail tops out at Inspiration Point giving you epic views of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands. Take a break here and soak up the view before heading back down the trail! There will be plenty of people hiking up to see this killer view so make sure to pack your bell.
Romero Canyon (local favorite)
Sitting about 5 minutes south of Santa Barbara in Montecito, located on Bella Vista Drive, we have the Romero Canyon trailhead. There are a couple of different ways to ride this trail that can either make it easier or more challenging for the rider. You will start by riding up the old Romero Canyon fire road. There are both an upper and lower loop to this trail. Sticking with the lower loop you will ride about halfway up the mountain and come to an intersection. From here you can ride down the single track which follows the creek back to the trailhead, or you can simply ride the fire road back down.
If you stick to the fire road this will be an intermediate to advanced level ride. The dirt is loose and rocky, but the fire road has very few technical sections. It is steep and long so prepare yourself for a leg burning climb. If you choose to ride the single track down the creek be ready for a teeth chattering descent. The trail is full of chunky staircases, creek crossings, and other extremely technical sections. The lower loop is 6 miles long, but if you opt out of the single track and ride the fire road back down, your mileage will end up being a little bit longer.
For those who want to push the limits and test their endurance go ahead and tackle the upper loop as well. Once at the intersection halfway up the mountain simply continue following the fire road up. Eventually you will summit the mountain and end up on the ridge line. Here you will run into East Camino Cielo road where you will be faced with another option. Either ride back down the fire road or ride down the technical single track. If you choose to do the loop you will have ridden 10 miles and if you choose to go back down the fire road you will have done a little bit more. The option is yours!
San Ysidro Canyon
Here we have another advanced, technical ride for the experienced mountain biker. If you want to start from the bottom you can find the trailhead off of East Mountain Drive. If you want to ride it as a downhill track have a friend shuttle you to the top of the mountain. The top of the trail can be found off of East Camino Cielo Road. Don’t let the picture above fool you. The majority of this trail is going to be a rocky single track that will have you white knuckling those handle bars on the way down.
Once you’ve set your sights on tackling this ride there are a couple of stats you should know. This mountain is going to make you earn your dinner. From the bottom to the top you will be climbing a total of 3,000 feet. Round trip you will be riding just shy of 9 miles and there will certainly be sections of hike-a-bike on the way up. This is not a ride for the faint of heart. We cannot stress enough that we only recommend this trail to the expert level rider.
The bottom half of this trail along the creek is going to be a rock garden. As you climb towards the top of the mountain the rocks start to fall away and you enter a dry chaparral environment. The top half of the trail is going to be a fun, loose, and flowy single track. Once you top out you will find yourself on East Camino Cielo Road. Stop here, have a snack, and enjoy the view you worked so hard to see. Remember to pack a bell to ride this trail!
Where to go from here?
If this article got you hankering to get out on some Santa Barbara dirt (or rock) we have you covered. Go ahead and follow this link to check out some of the mountain bikes we offer for rent. Our full-suspension bikes can tackle just about anything you would want to ride. Enjoy!