Buellton: Figueroa Mountain Challenge Eastside

Thursday, April 3, 2014

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Click here to watch a short video of today’s ride

Today’s classic mountain challenge loop rises nearly 4500′ above the Santa Ynez Valley. We’ll head up the east side of Figueroa Mountain on Happy Valley and Figueroa Mountain roads to Cachuma Saddle and to the summit. The grueling climb includes a mile long packed dirt section and a couple of creek crossings. The long descent into Los Olivos is followed by a short climb up Ballard Canyon.

We exit Flying Flags and head east on CA-246, pass Ostrichland, Bella Cavalla Farms and Shoestring Winery and Vineyards towards the open valley.

There is a half mile climb on CA-246 into the neighboring community of Solvang, the Danish Capitol of America.

The flat terrain on CA-246 continues east through Santa Ynez out towards the open valley with great views of the surrounding vineyards, open meadows and mountains.

We cross CA-154 to Armour Ranch Rd; this is a quiet country back road with minimal to no traffic. The rolling terrain for the next 1.5 miles cuts through the expansive Santa Ynez Valley with gorgeous views of the Sierra Madre Mountains to the north and the mountains and green forests of Los Padres National Forest to the south.

We stay east on Happy Canyon Rd; the flat terrain for the first 2.4 miles leads us through the scenic wineries, vineyards, farms and equestrian facilities around the Santa Ynez Valley.

The gentle terrain on Happy Canyon Rd continues through the valley towards the open meadows and pastoral lands to Rambling Oaks Rd.

We enter a short section of shaded canyon through a small ranching community with farm houses, beautiful wooden barns and windmills. Slow Please-Cows Calves on Road signs are posted on the trunks of old oak trees.

The start of the steep climb on Happy Canyon begins at mile marker 7.3 at the Permit Required sign. The road steadily traverses up the mountain with steep grades of 10-14%. Watch out for the narrow sections of road with fallen rocks and boulders!

The road eases up for a short bit with grades of 7-9% once you pass the paved over cattle guard.

2.2 miles into the climb, the pavement ends and the mile long packed dirt section begins; it was surprising not too bad at all with lesser grades of 7-9%. I ride with a set of beefy 28’s with tread and it makes a world of a difference in terms of comfort!

The packed dirt road ends after a mile and quickly drops down onto a narrow road that follows along Cachuma Creek into the shaded woods to Lion Canyon. Watch out for the wet road surfaces at the narrow creek crossings!

The second creek crossing leads us to the 2 miles climb up Happy Canyon to the summit at Cachuma Saddle. The road winds up the canyon with steep 9-11% grades.

Don’t rejoice just yet; the climbing continues on for another 3.4 miles on Figueroa Mountain Rd to the summit.

The road is carved into the mountain and goes up the flank of Figueroa Mountain with an average grade of 7.5%.

This climb seems endless with each turn looking and feeling exactly like the one before it.

Take the time to enjoy the gorgeous mountain vistas!

Some sections of the road are lined with pretty blue lupines, turn after turn.

The road narrows as we approach the tree lined ridge up to the summit. At this higher elevation, we enter through the mixed evergreen forest around the Los Padres National Forest.

At the top, take a breather and enjoy the dramatic views of the rugged San Rafael Mountains.

We encounter brisk west winds on the descent down Figueroa Mountain Rd. The road drops us down to the open ridge line with beautiful views of Lake Cachuma and the open green meadows.

The road continues dropping down along the ridge with gorgeous views of the Santa Ynez Valley.

The drop down into the wooded forest is followed by a climb out to the trailhead up to Pino Alto, Lookout and Cumbre. With the California drought, there are no displays of blooming wildflowers along this side of the mountain-it looks very barren.

We continue to descend the mountain, pass the Figueroa Ranger Station to the short little bumps along the twisty back ridge to the cattle guard at Birabent Canyon.

Figueroa Mountain Rd heads SW for the next 6.9 gentle miles through the canyon out to the open valley floor.

We pass the gates to Neverland Ranch, The Family School and several ranches and farms.

Figueroa Mountain Rd intersects with CA-154 at Los Olivos. We head west on CA-154 to Foxen Canyon Rd.

The turn on Foxen Canyon leads us to the short climb up Ballard Canyon Rd.

The road drops down into the valley and opens to spectacular views of the hillside vineyards and cattle ranches.

The gentle rolling terrain takes us through the open green meadows with vibrant displays of yellow mustard flowers-WOW!

Ballard Canyon winds around the vineyards to the horse and cattle ranches before dropping down to CA-246.

CA-246 W takes us through Buellton back to our camp at Flying Flags RV Park.

This is a very challenging route with steep climbs and some mixed terrain. Much of Happy Canyon Rd has full sun exposure; on a hot day this climb up the east side would be brutal! Check the weather before doing this route and carry plenty of snacks and water! This ride also offers the most spectacular views-challenge yourself and try it out! Feel proud of your accomplishment? You can purchase a “I climbed the Fig” jersey at dr j’s bicycle shop in Solvang or order it on-line!

Garmin Stats:
52.61 Miles with 5702′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 4383′
Max grade: 14%
Terrain: Extremely hilly with steep climbs

Weather: Sunny and clear with some afternoon patchy clouds. Temps ranged from the mid 40’s to the mid 70’s. NW winds with 67% humidity

Click here to view the interactive route map & profile


Follow this route for today’s ride:


  1. Nancy

    Fabulous photos! I know that country, lovely riding. Thanks for sharing.

    I will be doing Alta Alpina this year. I look forward to doing some riding with you guys. In fact I joined their club and now will be doing their Spring Century as a Death ride reconnaissance and training. Keep up the good work you two, someone has to do it! 🙂


    Brian, Sounds great, let’s meet up for a ride around the valley before the event. Looking forward to it! Nancy


  2. Nancy and Michael,

    You guys are amazing. I did the other side of Figueroa last year and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can’t even imagine going up the east side.

    Hope to see you in the Bay Area one of these days. I miss you both.


    John, Thanks! The climb up the east side is a grind! Email me if you ever want to get together and ride. Our schedule is pretty much open. Nancy


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