Cycling Refugio Pass in Santa Barbara - excellent Pacific Ocean views along at the top.
Ride 10 miles gaining 3,820’ to elevation 4,141 at 7.1% average grade.
Refugio Road is one of two Top 100 Climb in the Santa Barbara, CA area, #59 Gibraltor Rd is just 25 miles east in Santa Barbara. Both climbs are beautiful and challenging, making a trip to experience both well worth it. If you are local to Southern California - or willing to travel for a climb - then be sure to visit the Refugio Road and Gibraltor Road climbs. The climb begins just off Hwy 101, 25 miles north of the Santa Barbara city limits and climbs 10 miles into the Santa Ynez Mountains which run parallel to the Pacific Ocean. The road is for the most part one lane and very rough for the first five miles, although it does improve at the 5 mile mark when we turn onto Camino Cielo (Spanish for "Road to the Sky").
We started our May, 2015 climb in the morning and were greeted by birds chirping and roosters crowing. We pass by an avocado orchard and the Circle Bar B Ranch (horseback riding available) in the first mile and are then virtually alone for the next 9-10 miles, initially travelling through a lower wooded area which yields to chaparral, coastal sage scrub and grasslands as we climb higher into the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Start of an exceptional climbing experience.
Circle Bar B Ranch ½ mile up the road from the start.
Covered and surrounded by oak trees lower part of climb.
Refugio Pass is at mile 5.1 with an 8.2% gradient to this point, ascending 2,040'.
Turn right at Refugio pass, mile 5.1.
After the first few lower miles we are treated to exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean to the west. The road ends at a radio tower and what appears to be an abandoned (or very dated at the least) observatory which was apparently formerly used to track rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base 45 miles to the northwest.
View towards Pacific Ocean from W. Camino Cielo
Last 100 yards
Looking down from the top
Drone photo of West Camino Cielo leading to the finish - Lake Cachuma to the northeast.
Drone view west of W. Camino Cielo and the the terrain just climbed.
Steepest ¼ mile is the last ¼ mile (12.6%); steepest mile begins at mile 1.6 (11.1%)
Note - the alternate route is to stay right at mile 9.8 where the road forks either left to go up the remaining .2 mile to the Observatory; the most popular Strava segment stops at the gate with a 7.71 FIETS Index or continue 1/3 mile and 133' more climbing to Santa Ynez Peak (this actually has a higher FIETS Rating at 8.80 but for some reason is much less popular than the route we charted - Map). Thanks much to Michael Foster of Goleta, CA for his input on this climb.
Of historic note, Ronald and Nancy Reagan once owned Rancho del Cielo, a 688 acre ranch adjacent to Refugio Pass, known as the Western White House (located at the 5 mile mark of the climb) - "From the first day we saw it, Rancho del Cielo cast a spell over us. No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does. ~ Ronald Reagan" The Reagan Ranch.
1992 photo of Ronald and Nancy Regan (Associated Press)
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Best Western Pepper Tree Inn on our Santa Barbara trip
This was a very nice and centrally located hotel
Restaurant and Bar next door.
We recommend this hotel.
Roadway / Traffic: The roadway is one lane for the majority of the climb, but there is minimal traffic and this is a safe and private climb. Caution on the descent is advised due to rough roadway conditions (particularly the bottom 5 miles) which includes potholes and loose gravel.
 We do not benefit at all from this endorsement and have no connection or affiliation with the hotel.