Buellton: Refugio Rd-Refugio Pass-Refugio Beach

Friday, April 4, 2014

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

It’s another gorgeous morning-today’s ride is an out and back on Refugio Rd to Refugio Beach. We’ll begin with a climb up the north side to Refugio Pass summit and descend the south side down to Refugio Beach for lunch. For the return, we’ll climb up the steeper south side of Refugio Rd to the summit and descend the north side back to Santa Ynez.

I am aware that a section of N Refugio Rd is closed to thru traffic, so we’ll be checking out the dirt road conditions as well-this will be a mixed terrain ride. I just don’t know how long the dirt section goes on for, the set of beefy 28’s with tread on my bike should serve me well-I hope. There’s also nothing wrong with getting off the bike and walking a bit.

We exit Flying Flags and head east on CA-246; this road takes us through the busy part of Buellton towards Solvang. At Ostrichland, all the birds are gathered in one spot which I thought was a bit odd. Ca-246 takes us through the vineyards and farms to the open green meadows.

The short climb up CA-246 takes us through the community of Solvang and Santa Ynez.

The turn on Refugio Rd takes us south on the flats through the vineyards and ranches around Santa Ynez Valley.

We cross the Santa Ynez River for the short climb up and over the valley into a ranching community with horse facilities and wide open pastoral fields and green meadows.

After passing Rancho Sierra Grande, Refugio Rd gently winds its way through the beautiful shaded woods along Quiota Creek. The next 1.5 miles has several low creek crossings and multiple hefty iron rail bridges and one nicely crafted wooden bridge.

The single lane road continues through the rolling green hills to the concrete road barrier where the road is closed to thru traffic.

The adventure begins here; according to the local map I have, the dotted lines indicate that the unpaved road goes on for a about a mile or so, but who knows? Local visitor’s maps are usually not drawn to scale, so I’ll find out soon enough when we get to the summit.

We cross the barrier onto a packed dirt road that narrows as you enter into the wooded canyon.

The road changes to sections with rugged embedded and loose rocks with huge dips and wide cracks.

The road changes back to packed dirt and as we near the narrow canyon, there is a very short section of pavement that leads out to a very rocky road with deep crevices. We opt to get off the bikes and walk.

The road continues to wind its way up the canyon around Bald Mountain in the Los Padres National Forest and switches back and forth between packed dirt and rocky sections. Fortunately the climb up the north side is not too steep with gradient ranges of 7-9%. Riding through all this certainly requires a lot of concentration and the ability to pick a good line. 

We reach Refugio Pass summit at 2263 feet; the rough dirt road leading up the top is 3.3 miles-much longer than I expected! Of course as in any country back road, the local signs have bullet holes all over it.

CAUTION-the descent on Refugio Rd down towards the coast is very twisty, steep and bumpy! The views of the hills and mountains around the Los Padres National Forest are spectacular!

Refugio Rd exits Los Padres National Forest and drops down through the canyon to the flat valley floor. The road opens up with views of lemon and avocado groves.

We stay on Refugio Rd and cross under Hwy 101 to our stop at Refugio Beach, out turn around point.

We exit the beach and make our way back to Refugio Rd; we simply reverse our way back up to Refugio Pass summit.

The first couple of miles goes back along the flats through the lemon and avocado groves.

The two lane road narrows to a single lane as we enter through the lower shaded canyon area up to Circle Bar B.

The climbing begins at the base of Circle Bar B up towards the community mailboxes.

On the approach to the left switchback the road tilts up and around steadily for the next 0.8 miles with steep grades of 15-18%!

Refugio Rd continues to weave along the side of the Bald Mountain with gorgeous views of the coast and the rolling green hills and dense forests of the Los Padres National Forest.

At mile mark 4.3, the road maintains double digit grades of 11-14% for the next 1.6 miles up the mountain with a cattle guard crossing. You can easily get distracted from the climb by enjoying the stunning views!

When you reach Verigate at mile mark 6.9, the road drops down to lesser grades of 8-10%. Refugio Rd continues on for the next 1.2 miles winding in and out of the shaded woods to Refugio Pass summit.

Now the only thing on my mind at this time is “how am I going to manage on the rough descent down the north side?” I will be quick to admit that I lack the MTB skills to do any type of hopping or descending on that type of terrain, but I’ll give it a shot. I have my limits and will not hesitate to get off the bike at any time if I feel at all uncomfortable.

I do manage to make my way down slowly and safely to the bottom of the mountain and did have to get off the bike a few times at the very rocky sections. What an experience!

We reverse our way out of the narrow shaded canyon and creek crossings towards the open valley and ranches.

The Santa Ynez River crossing leads us to the short climb up and over to the other side of the valley.

CA-246 W takes us back through Santa Ynez and Solvang to Buellton.

This is a very challenging mixed terrain route; it’s doable on a road bike with wider tires and or by a person with excellent MTB or cyclo cross bike handling skills. To avoid the dirt road on the north side, it might be easier to do a remote start from the coast up to the summit and back. Either way, the steep climb on S Refugio is worth riding up at least for the experience and for the stunning vistas it provides! Next time, I’ll have to explore the possibility of doing a loop that includes W Camino Cielo but am not sure if the road is open all the way out to San Marcos Pass Rd/CA-154. If anyone’s tried it, please let me know.

Garmin Stats: 43.10 Miles with 4990′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 2249′
Max grade: 18%
Terrain: Extremely hilly with steep climbs and 3.3 miles of rough dirt road with rocks and deep crevices-mixed terrain.

Weather: Sunny with afternoon patchy clouds. Temps ranged from the low 50’s to the mid 70’s. Breezy NW winds with 63% humidity. 

Click here to view the interactive route map & profile

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  1. At the summit, rather than going down to the coast, you can make a left and encounter beautiful pavement for several miles to the satellite array. It is a narrow spine of land with fantastic views of the coast and Santa Ynez valley. After the array, the road turns to dirt all the way to 154. I have not done that section but know some who have.


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