Buellton: San Marcos Pass-Stagecoach-Chumash Painted Cave

Sunday, April 6, 2014

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Today’s out & back ride heads east on CA-154 towards Santa Barbara for the climbs up to San Marcos Pass. We’ll follow the old Stagecoach Rd into Cold Spring Canyon to Cold Spring Tavern-a former Relay Station dating back to 1886. The route continues with a steep climb on Camino Cielo to Painted Cave Rd and Chumash Painted Cave.

CA-246 E leads us out of the busy downtown area of Beullton to the open valley and green meadows towards Solvang.

The short climb on CA-245 E takes us through Solvang and out into the Santa Ynez Valley.

We continue on CA-154 E towards Santa Barbara; the first four miles goes through the scenic oak dotted valley and over the Santa Ynez River. It has a wide shoulder area with fantastic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains. 

The road quickly narrows with no shoulder on the rolling climbs up through the gaps to Lake Cachuma and Rancho San Marcos Golf Course. CAUTION-this is a high traffic area! 

We exit CA-154 E onto Stagecoach Rd; this is an old stagecoach road that gently winds its way up through Cold Spring Canyon.

This quiet side road takes us under the engineering landmark-Cold Spring Arch Bridge; it is one of the longest steel arch bridges in the United States. The road continues up the canyon to Cold Spring Tavern-a way station/stagecoach rest stop that served travelers dating back to 1886. 

Take the time to enjoy the phenomenal views of the rugged San Rafael and Sierra Madres Mountains-WOW!

Cold Spring Arch Bridge-mountain views

Cold Spring Arch Bridge-mountain views

Stagecoach Rd continues to weave its way up into the shaded woods through a small residential community out to the summit of San Marcos Pass at CA-154.

We cross CA-154 onto E Camino Cielo; the first half plus mile on this road takes us pass the San Marcos Fire Station of Los Padres National Forest and winds through the shaded woods up to the hidden gated homes north of Goleta and Santa Barbara. 

The road gradually increases in gradient and kicks up at the hairpin turn to the upper ridge line. 

The climb along the ridge has steep grades of 11-13% with stunning views of Santa Barbara and the dense forests, hillsides and mountain peaks around Los Padres National Forest.

Camino Cielo continues along the ridge top with lesser grades to Laurel Springs and drops down slightly to the Y intersection at Painted Cave Rd.

At Painted Cave Rd, the road narrows to a single lane through the very small community of Painted Cave and drops very quickly through the shaded canyon to Chumash Painted Cave.

Chumash painted Cave is really easy to miss on the downhill-slow down and watch for the State Historic Park sign on the right hand side of the road!

The park is very small with no facilities. The shallow cave is tucked underneath a massive block of sandstone hanging from above the road; it’s easily accessible with a short walk up the stone steps. The rock art inside the cave is protected by a heavy iron grill with few small openings where you can stick your camera in to take pictures. 

The sandstone rock art depicts a story from the past-what does it tell you?



This is the turnaround point on this route; the short climb away from the Painted Cave is steep with grades of 10-13% and a steep 15% pitch at the switchback.

From Camino Cielo, it’s super sweeping descent back down to CA-154.

We descend Stagecoach Rd and make a brief stop at Cold Spring Tavern; a rustic setting in the gorgeous canyon with loads of history. This place is packed with of people, cars and motorcycles! It’s a very popular place to hang out for the great BBQ food, drinks and live music! 

We continue to descend Stagecoach Rd back to CA-154 W.

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

This is not a recommended route to do; CA-154 is narrow with lots of fast moving traffic! A better option might be to begin from a remote start in Santa Barbara off CA-192 and climb N San Marcos Rd and Painted Cave Rd to E Camino Cielo and Gibraltar Rd-I’ll have to try it next time. Another fun thing to do with very little miles is to start at the Cold Spring Tavern, ride out to Painted Cave, and reverse your way back for a post ride social at the tavern. Cold drinks, BBQ and live music-sounds pretty good to me-I’m game to try that out!

Garmin Stats:
59.34 Miles with 4500′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 2802′
Max grade: 15%
Terrain: Hilly with a few steep climbs

Weather: Sunny and hot with temps ranging from the high 50’s to the high 80’s. NW winds with 55% humidity.

Click here to view the interactive route map & profile


Follow this route for today’s ride, if you must:


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