“Figure eight loop with a leg-burning 6 mile climb and a thrilling 4 mile descent
— Leslie Kehmeier
Big mountains tumbling head over heels into the sea. There are few places in the world that have this setting; Santa Barbara is one of them. Looking up from town you'll see the Santa Ynez mountains rising steeply. You'll also be looking at Romero Canyon and one of the better mountain bike rides in the area.
As of December 2017, this trail is closed as part of the Thomas Fire Closure. Violating this closure is a federal crime that can result in hefty fines or jail time.
Need to Know
The trails in Romero Canyon are heavily used by many different groups. Be mindful of your speed while riding the trails.
Be sure to get a bike bell, distributed by the Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers. The bells help other users on the trail be aware of mountain bikers.
Start the Romero Loop with a big climb up Romero Fire Road
, a historic dirt road that climbs all the way to the top of Camino Cielo. It's grinding and steep at first but eventually mellows out into steady pedaling. At about a half mile up you'll see the bottom of Lower Romero
on your left; this is where you'll drop out. Its half a dozen miles up so dont get too much into the thousand mile stare; youll not want to miss the views of the Channel Islands and the Pacific Ocean.
At about 4 miles you'll come to a four way intersection of trails which divides the Upper and Lower Romero
trails. Upper Romero
feeds in from above and Lower Romero
drops down below. You'll continue straight but the remaining ~2.5 mile climb ahead is unshaded and taxing. Taking Lower Romero
down from here is a valid option, especially if you're feeling the toll of the first few miles of climbing.
After a particularly breathtaking view of the ocean the trail continues around the mountain to an unexpected pass where you'll stay right as the trail forks. The trail connects with a paved road on which you'll travel downhill for a few hundred feet before taking what looks like a foot path to your right where the pavement stops. You'll have to walk your bike up this section through a couple fences that look impassable but have openings for hikers/bikers.
Once the climb tops out, the route traverses the ridge to the east to access the top of Upper Romero
. There will be another fork but you can avoid the vicious wall to your right by staying left and wrapping around the hill. The next fork will come up soon and you'll head right, toward the first switchback. Your sweet reward awaits, a two-part descent that combines the essentials of great trail riding into one experience.
Start with Upper Romero
, a fast section of trail. The first few switchbacks on the way down are very tight and difficult to see due to overgrowth so check your speed. Parts of the trail are less than 1 foot wide and loose so take caution. After the initial part of the descent the trail carves in and out of the chaparral canopy covering the upper hillsides of Romero Canyon. Views are available, but dont gaze for too long or you might fly off the trail.
Be aware of speed when you approach the intersection to cross Romero Fire Road
onto Lower Romero
. Look both ways as this road/trail is popular for both climbing and descending.
You'll begin Lower Romero
with a fast and flowing section with a few rocks. The trail then quickly gets into several technical rock gardens. Pick your line and pick it quick. A continuous grove of gnarled oak trees lives throughout this section and there are a few creek crossings which may be difficult after heavy rains. The lower you get, the bigger the rock gardens become. Don't be fooled by a few smooth sections because you'll have to have your 'A' game on to the end where your adrenaline will be surging and your legs and arms will be on fire.
dumps out on Romero Fire Road
for the last bit of the ride. The final rock section is fast so be aware of your speed as you approach the trailhead.