Page Contributor(s): James Badham, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
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Cycling Gibraltar Road - Santa Barbara’s hardest bike climb.
Ride 9.8 miles gaining 3,863’ to 3,978’ elevation at 7.3% average grade.
The views from Gibraltar are absolutely stunning . . . at any time of the day . . .
. . . sunrise (earliest photo center, then clockwise from top left).
Sunrise - view southeast towards Carpinteria . . .
. . . daytime, of course, and . . .
. . . sunset (earliest photo center, then clockwise from top left).
Before heading out to cycle Gibraltor Road, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.
Gibraltar Road to La Cumbre Peak is a very challenging climb that begins within the city limits of Santa Barbara, California. Although the ride starts in the beautiful and populous city of Santa Barbara, we quickly climb into rural surroundings which offer exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara to the west (for most of the ride), and the Santa Ynez Mountain Range to the east (in the last couple of miles).
Views south to Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.
(One would think west but the view is actually south.)
Foreground is La Cumbre Peak and radio tower;
Background is Santa Ynez Mountain Range and Gibraltar Reservoir.
View southeast towards Carpinteria.
This is an excellent and challenging climb with spectacular views, and is highly recommended for those living in or visiting the Santa Barbara area. For those not shy about traveling to climb: the one-two punch of Gibraltar and Old San Marcos-Painted Cave Road-E Camino Cielo is hard to beat. East Camino Cielo is where both the Gibraltar and Painted Cave climbs finish, although there are 4.1 miles between the finish of each (488' of climbing and 835’ of descent from the Gibraltar to Painted Cave finishes). If your legs can bear it, the out-and-back is well worth the effort to climb these two spectacular and beautiful routes, each exceptional in its own way.
The locals refer to this as the Alp d’ Huez of Santa Barbara, or just plain “Gib.” Beware that flies are a serious irritant towards the top in hot weather, and the descent is commonly quite cold as we drop down toward Santa Barbara.
I’ve always wondered why these no shooting signs are necessary so close to town . . .
Inset photo bottom left: 30# of lead bullets retrieved from this illegal shooting site in July, 2019
Left inset photo: Las Padres Forest Watch
The climb tops out on La Cumbe Peak which is the highest point in Santa Barbara County. This climb has it all: views of the Pacific Ocean, views of mountains, and an overall challenging climb. It is one of the best climbs in Southern California and we recommend those nearby -- or those willing to travel -- check it out.
Hop the gate, ride up the rough narrow path, past the radio tower and . . .
. . . ride up a service road/hiking path a quarter-mile at 11% . . .
. . . past the old radio and fire watch tower and . . .
. . . enjoy the spectacular view of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean,
and Channel Islands beyond.
On the way up, beware of cars and anything that could be coming down this steep descent.
Make sure to turn left at Angostura Pass at mile 8.5 where Gibraltar T’s into East Camino Cielo -- we continue straight at this point to get the most climbing for our buck. This climb ends 1.4 miles west on East Camino Cielo. The views at the very top, over a gate and up a public path to the radio towers and abandoned fire lookout are breathtaking and by themselves worth the trek.
TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
2016 Gibraltar mountain-top finish
Stage 3 winner Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)
2016 Stage 3 route map.
Stage 2 Tour of California
Stage winner Egan Bernal in KOM time of 27’12”
Photo: Santa Rosa Press Democrat (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
2018 Stage 2 route map -- May 14, 2018.
2018 Stage 2 profile
Legendary hill climber Phil Gaimon wins 2018 Worlds on Gibraltar.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: We’d give a nine of ten for the first segment, and a five out of ten for the last 1.3 miles. Five miles on Gibraltar road are newly paved as of 2015. The last mile is a bit rough, but very manageable. The last 50 yards are up a paved footpath after we legally hop the fence (it’s just there to prevent motor vehicle traffic). There is very little traffic on this route and it is cycle-safe as we pass several Share The Road signs posted along the climb.
WHERE TO STAY?
PJAMM Cycling stayed at the Best Western Pepper Tree Inn on our Santa Barbara cycling trip. This was a very nice and centrally located hotel with a restaurant and Bar next door, and we would recommend it.
We also stayed at the less expensive Quality Inn and enjoyed our stay there - as of December 2019, it costs only $115 per night + has an outstanding breakfast!
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’S TOP BIKE CLIMBS
Top Southern California Road Bike Climbs - clockwise from top left to middle:
That’s a wrap!!
No, wait - a late contribution by our friend from Santa Barbara, James Badham:
Over six miles, Gibraltar has only one flat spot, with even a tiny downhill slant, about three-quarters of the way up, just past the "Climbing Rock" and as you arrive at the little hamlet of Flores Flat, which has maybe five houses.
The respite is short, as the road then kicks up to its steepest before backing off a bit but remaining steep until you hit East Camino Cielo, which is where the segment ended on the Amgen Tour of California. From there, you can either turn around and head back down (pavement is good because was repaved two years ago) or:
(a) take a right and ride seven miles east along the eastern part of hilly East Camino Cielo and then back. (The SB Century does this.) This route ends at a locked gate and the road becomes dirt, or,
(b) at the intersection, continue straight (west). That takes you down a short descent and then another 15-minute climb (steep at the bottom) to La Cumbre Peak, highest point in the local mountains at just over 4,000 feet.
Photo looking north towards the Santa Ynez Mountains in March 2020.
From there, you can either turn back around to descend or continue west past La Cumbre Peak. The latter takes you up a very short rise and then onto a descent of a couple of miles before reaching the shooting range and the last fairly easy 10-minute climb if you are doing the whole Ridge Loop. From the top you descend steeply, then less steeply, then hit a flat section for a few hundred yards before reaching a couple of switchbacks that deliver you to the intersection with Painted Cave Road (see PJAMM Painted Cave Climb Page). Turning down Painted Cave, you'll descend into the small village of Painted Cave. Watch for the folding chairs and water on the right, across from the fire station, just where the houses begin, provided by the nice people who live there.
Use caution on the descent ahead. It is very steep and narrow and the pavement is not great. Careful on the blind right-hand corners, especially if you are unfamiliar with this road.
After three miles, you'll reach Highway 154. Be careful crossing; traffic moves very fast here. Cross the highway and go straight onto Old San Marcos Pass Road (PJAMM has combined San Marcos with Painted Cave for one glorious continuous spectacular climb), one of the most popular local climbs. The top section is relatively straight but then comes a series of four very sharp hairpin turns, so use caution. The middle section has some superb smooth banked turns. The three-mile descent delivers you to Cathedral Oaks Road. From there, it's easy going back into town or riding east to pick up your car if you left it at the bottom of Gibraltar.
Note 1: Some people don't like descending Painted Cave and prefer to continue west on East Camino Cielo (rather than turning down Painted Cave). Doing so also leads yout to Highway 154, but right at San Marcos Pass. I find it terrifying to cross the highway here: four lanes of high-speed traffic and limited visibility. Further, after turning left (south) onto 154, you then have to ride down the sometimes non-existent shoulder for a couple of miles to reach Old San Marcos Pass Road. This, to me, is truly terrifying. Cars are going 60 mph, and many honk at cyclists. Not to mention, some of the people may have been wine-tasting in the valley. I have done this only twice and will never do it again. I was afraid for my life when a car passed me with less than a foot of clearance. Also, trailers and motorhomes. Painted Cave is steep, but I have control over my speed, and the cars are going slow.
Note 2: Gibraltar-Painted Cave-San Marcos Out and Back: For an interesting twist -- and a total of about 7000+ feet of climbing, once you reach Highway 154 after descending Painted Cave Road, you can stop, turn around and ride back UP what you just came down, eventually topping out again on La Cumbre Peak and then descending Gibraltar, which you first ascended a couple of hours ago. This is known as "flipping the b--ch," which is pretty vulgar — I don't say it — but makes for a tough and rewarding ride. You can get water back up at the house at Painted Cave.
Thanks to the Old Man of the Mountain -
James Badham, Santa Barbara, CA
 We do not benefit at all from this endorsement and have no connection or affiliation with the hotel.