Trail Guide: Santa Barbara Front Country

A comprehensive compilation of hiking and biking trails in Santa Barbara County. After moving to SB in December 2014, it has taken me many hours of going the wrong way up trails that are impossible to bike up to figure out where all the trails are, which direction to take them, and how to connect them all into fun loop. Updated frequently as I find more good dirt.





2 hours - 1 day


10-50 miles
Map Resources
NAVIGATIONAL NOTE: The coast here is oriented WEST TO EAST!!! Not N-S, like we are accustomed to in California.

Finding the network of trails extending out of Los Padres National Forest into the more developed areas of The City of Santa Barbara wasn't particularly difficult. I used several paper maps and online resources to point myself towards new dirt. Each of these is a good resource, but most have nowhere close to all the current trails on them, and none provide useful information about which trails are possible to be climbed on a bicycle, which is a real concern in the steep and rock front country, even for a professional mountain biker such as myself. The maps I'm producing attempt to do just that, and are formatted to be printed on 8.5x11 paper at full (borderless) resolution while maintaining a 1" = 1 mile scale. If you'd like to get a bigger picture of the area, these are the resources I've used to compile my maps:

Strava Global Heatmap

Strava Segment Explore Function

National Geographic TrailsIllustrated Map 812 - Los Padres National Forest East

National Geographic TrailsIllustrated Map 813 - Los Padres National Forest West

Mountain Bike Project Trail Map Directory

Difficulty Rating System
I'm a pretty competent rider, so normally I don't pay much attention to trail ratings. But as soon as I started exploring my new home trails in SB, I wished some kind of rating system was available to me. For starters, the vast majority of the trails here are barely rideable on a hardtail, and that is coming from a pro XC racer who rides his hardtail all over the USA every weekend. And without a combination of fitness and technical skill, the vast majority of front country trails are near impossible to climb without lots of hike-a-bike, and I don't use the word "impossible" in a hyperbolic way. Linking these trail together in a couple of good loops ended up mostly being a matter of finding which trails were at all possible to pedal up. Figuring that out has meant riding all the trails in the wrong directions, a tedious and shoe-destroying process that I hope to help others avoid with the maps in this blog post.

Knowing that upper Cold Springs is not a "climbing" trail is key info.


The ranking system I've applied is a modified version of one used on a classic Bay Area trail map I remember my dad having in the mid nineties: arrows point in the uphill direction on each trail segment, and the number of arrows indicates difficulty.

> = Reasonable climb, smooth singletrack or mild fireroad

>> = Steep fireroad or technical singletrack. For reference, 90% of trails I've ever ridden in the Bay Area and elsewhere fall into this or the '>' category

>>> = Insanely steep fireroad and absurdly technical singletrack. In the Bay Area, we call these "rock gardens". In Santa Barbara, I call them "climbs that are possible to clean", with expert skills and fitness. This is everything short of riding up rock stairs.

>>>> = Not possible to climb. Alternately, these are World Cup Downhill worthy descents. It is absolutely not possible to pedal up significant portions of these trails. Be warned, both up and down.

Beginner Trails

Romero, Cold Springs, and Hot Springs
Starting in downtown Santa Barbara, a very challenging network of trails reaches into the Santa Ynez Mountains and Los Padres National Forest backcountry north of town. Romero, Cold Springs, and Hot Springs are the the three main artery trails that extend all the way up to East Camino Cielo, the paved road that runs along the ridge of the front range. Together with Gibraltar Road and Tunnel Trail, they provide access to the back country and also host a small lower network that allows for shorter rides with more frequent climbs and descents. Click the map image to download a PDF, or the Strava image below it for a segment I have created that I feel is the best all-in-one tour of everything the lower front range trails have to offer. rhc

The Lower East Front Range All Dirt Tour Ride.


Tunnel And Jesusita

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