Gibraltar Road Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

8.6
FIETS
9.8 mi
DISTANCE
3,873 ft
GAINED
7.3 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): James Badham, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

INTRO

This is the hardest bike climb in Santa Barbara County with exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean along the climb.  We really enjoyed riding up, as well as sunrise and near sunset - seeing either from the peak is stunning. If you have only one climb to do in the Santa Barbara area, do this one.  Be cautious on the descent as there have been many serious cyclist vs. vehicle accidents on this roadway. 
The grade on the Gibraltar bike climb varies a fair amount. There are some descents, notably a half-mile -2.7% average descent beginning at mile eight just after the junction of E. Camino Cielo and Gibraltar Roads. There are several sections up to 100 yards that exceed 15%. The steepest quarter mile is 12% and there is a total of 2.6 miles of the climb (27%) at 10% or greater.
As of 2020 Gibraltar Road had been freshly paved and was in exceptional condition. The final 50 yards of the climb are on a dirt path (easily manageable on road bike) to the peak. Traffic is mild and there are several "Share The Road" signs along the way. As noted in the Introduction, be cautious on the descent. For parking, we have always parked on side streets near the start of the climb, but you may also consider parking in town: Here is the link to Santa Barbara Public Parking.
There are no provisions or water along this climb, although at under 10 miles none are really needed. Santa Barbara is also a very mild climate zone so you'll rarely need more than a wind jacket on this climb.
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
Due to the mild climate of Santa Barbara, this route can be used throughout the year, weather permitting. There are also many options for lodging available in Santa Barbara, including private vacation villas, within miles of climb start as it is a tourist destination.

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Strenuous
4.8
Road
4.5
Traffic
4.5
Scenery

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MEMBER REVIEWS & COMMENTS

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May 24, 2022
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 5
May 24, 2022
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 5
To preface, this climb is world-class in both difficulty and views. It's a must-do if you're anywhere near the area and it warrants a special trip to climb it. That being said, it's a great climb, but a better descent. It's tucked into the mountains so it can get much hotter than it is in Santa Barbara-especially in the summer. The fairly constant gradient is nice but it can get a little monotonous. On the descent, neither of these are a problem anymore. The surface of the road is immaculate which makes you feel as if you're gliding. The descent is technical, but with some attempts you can feel quite confident on the turns. If you choose Gibraltar instead of OSM, I'm going to suggest something different: turn right instead of left when you intersect with East Camino Cielo. Go down the road until it turns to dirt and then come back the way you came. It's a beautiful hidden gem that's often overlooked even by people who know about the route between Gibraltar and Painted Caves road
May 7, 2022
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 5
May 7, 2022
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 5
My wife and I did this in early April during a road trip to CA. As a CO resident the scenery was uniquely breathtaking (but not too physically "breathtaking" coming from altitude...thank you). It's quite pitchy which makes the steepest parts feel even steeper and definitely requires a good amount of training on steep climbs (we each did it on Fulgaz several times before making the trip). With that it wasn't that hard (I almost gave it a "Challenging" rating rather than "Strenuous") especially since the short length coupled with the mesmerizing views begged me to savor it more slowly than on Fulgaz. This meant I didn't need to be overly concerned with over-cooking it (i.e., lactic acid build-up) or about keeping fueled up. And even at a faster pace the 1hr.-ish climb time (for some/most?) is right at the edge of needing to worry about any of that as long as you get in some good pre-ride nutrition. Yet another unforgettable memory that I must thank PJAMM for helping us with!
Mar 15, 2022
I’ve wanted to do this climb for years, and actually did most of it back in another lifetime (1981). We had driving rain and hail and I was suffering from a respiratory ailment. I think I may have had a fever even. Anyway, 41 years later at 73, yesterday I made it to the intersection with El Camino Cielo. I had the encouragement of my son, with whom my wife was pregnant back on that gnarly day decades ago. I have done most of the classic climbs up in Washington where I live. This rates as one of the hardest and best. I esp love the alpine feel you get up around 4 miles from Mountain Drive, where we start. Just know as you do the first 3 miles or so that the worst ( or best, depending on your masochistic index) is to come. I broke no records for sure, but loved it. Fantastic descent, but take major caution on the blind corners, some of which seem banked to send you into the wrong lane. There is little traffic, more bikes than cars. IMO, this is a must do for the climbing aficionado.
Dec 4, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 5
Dec 4, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 5
An absolutely stunning climb. Even on a cloudy day, once you break through the clouds, the sights are amazing. Rivals Glendora Mountain Road / Glendora Ridge Road for beauty. I did the out-and-back up Gibraltar, down Painted Cave, and then turn around and return. No regrets, but next time I'd likely just do Gibraltar. Worth doing the small radio tower climb at the end.
Sep 28, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 5
road: 5
Sep 28, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 5
road: 5
We did this climb in late September early in the morning on a weekday under a typical Santa Barbara marine layer. Great climbing temperature (59/60) for most of the climb. Road became wet and visibility reduced as we ascended through the clouds. Perhaps a half dozen friendly cyclists were on the mountain. Occasional traffic both directions, but not moving fast, and respectful of cyclists. Road is mostly in great condition and easily wide enough for traffic to pass. Broke out of the marine layer near the top and as we crested had great views to the East. Overall an awesome , challenging, fun climb. We descended via Painted Cave. Road surface is not great plus narrow in spots and includes many steep downhill switchbacks. We had traffic and mist. If it is your first time down this descent be cautious. My friend was riding carbon wheels with rim brakes and had issues getting enough braking power. If we ride Gibraltar again we'll probably descent back down Gibraltar to be safe.
Jul 1, 2021
What a lot of people don't know is that after you reach to top of the main climb (past the cistern, Gibraltar Road continues down into Santa Ynez about a half mile up into some great dirt. There's a fire road right off of Arroyo Burro that'll take you back up to the top where you can end the typical loop down off of painted cave.
Apr 5, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 5
Apr 5, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 5
Fantastic. Watch for fast descenders. You can loop around back to Santa Barbara or continue for extended out/back.
Mar 3, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 4
Mar 3, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 4
I live near the base of Gibraltar Road. This is my favorite climb in the world. It is steep -- averages more than 8 percent -- and relentless -- just one downhill section. It is also a bit cruel -- it gets steeper the higher you go. But the views are spectacular. The top of Gibraltar Road is where it T-bones into East Camino Cielo. But you really should continue on East Camino Cielo to La Cumbre Peak. That's the highest point in all of Santa Barbara County. It is just 15-20 minutes further. In the second stage of the 2018 Egan Bernal did this climb in an insane time (27:12 min). That was at the end of a more than 100 mile stage! He went on to win the Amgen Tour of California, and the TDF the next year. So, as you pass the halfway of this climb in 30-45 minutes (like most riders), just know Egan already beat you!
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling Gibraltar Road - photo of Gibraltar Road, Santa Barbara, Pacific Ocean, roadway, mountains

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.

California Top 10 Most Scenic Bike Climb

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

The views from Gibraltar are absolutely stunning . . . at any time of the day . . .

Cycling Gibraltar Road - aerial drone collage photo of sunrise

. . . sunrise (earliest photo center, then clockwise from top left).

Aerial drone sphere photo at sunrise

Sunrise - view southeast towards Carpinteria . . .

Cycling Gibraltar Road - cyclists riding Gibraltar Road during daytime

. . . daytime, of course, and . . .

Cycling Gibraltar Road - Gibraltar Road at sunset

. . . 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).  

Santa Barbara and Pacific Ocean cycling on E Camino Cielo    

Views south to Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.

(One would think west but the view is actually south.)

Bicycle climb Gibraltar Road - Aerial drone photo of Santa Ynez mountains and E. Camino Cielo Road

Foreground is La Cumbre Peak and radio tower;

Background is Santa Ynez Mountain Range and Gibraltar Reservoir.

Santa Ynez Mountain range towards Carpinteria

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.  

Cycling Gibraltar Road - aerial drone photo of Gibraltar Road and E. Camino Cielo Road - Santa Ynez Mountains in the background.

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  . . .

Road to radio station and fire lookout on La Cumbre Peak

. . . ride up a service road/hiking path a quarter-mile at 11% . . .

   Radio station and fire lookout on La Cumbre Peak

. . . past the old radio and fire watch tower and . . .

                                                                View of Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara after climbing by bike to  La Cumbre Peak

. . . enjoy the spectacular view of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean,

 and Channel Islands beyond.

Bicycle ride and climb Gibraltar Road - skateboarders passing cyclist - road, Santa Barbara and Pacific Ocean

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

Amgen Tour of California History Gibraltar Road Santa Barbara 

  • 2016 --  Stage 3:
  • Thousand Oaks > Gibraltar (mountain-top finish);
  • 103.8 miles 8,700’;
  •  Stage winner: Julian Alaphilippe (FRA).

Amgen Tour of California Stage 3 Winner Julian Alaphilippe

2016 Gibraltar mountain-top finish

Stage 3 winner Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)

Photo:  Amgentourofcalifornia.com

2016 Stage 3 route map.

  • 2018 -- Stage 2:  
  • Ventura > Gibraltar (mountain-top finish);
  • 98 miles;  
  • Stage winner: Egan Bernal (COL);

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

Gibraltar Road was also home to the 2018 and 2019 Hillclimb World Championships.  The 2018 Championship was won by Phil Gaimon - see his video with commentary of the race here.

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.[1]

 

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

Nate Harrison Grade, Gibraltar Road, Palomar Mountain, Glendora Mountain Road, Mt. Baldy

Top Southern California Road Bike Climbs - clockwise from top left to middle:

Nate Harrison Grade, San Diego; Gibraltar Road, Santa Barbara; Palomar Mountain, San Diego

Glendora Mountain Road, Los Angeles; Mt. Baldy, Los Angeles.

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.

Climbing Rock

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.

Bike Parked on hillside overlooking Santa Ynez Mountains

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



[1] We do not benefit at all from this endorsement and have no connection or affiliation with the hotel.

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