This article is part of Mtbr’s Ultimate Base Camp feature. See all the stories in this special section here.
With its close proximity to Hollywood, sunny Santa Barbara, Calif. has always been a good place for celebrity spotters to get a glimpse of the stars away from LA’s hustle and bustle. Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Kenny Loggins and Elen Degeneres are all SB regulars, as are mountain bike celebs like Shaums March, Duncan Riffle and Carlin Dunne.
No disrespect to all those folks, but the guy you should be chasing down for an autograph is Chris Orr. Long before the native Nebraskan ever drew a paycheck from IMBA, for whom he’s now a community trails liaison, Orr spent hundreds of volunteer hours on the trail swinging a mattock, and at least as much time in municipal meeting rooms using his powers of persuasion so the rest of us could have access to Santa Barbara’s trails. Orr, along with the Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers (SBMTV), are pretty much the reason you can ride here at all, so if you see any of these guys or gals in town, by ‘em a beer.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Santa Barbara
And about those rides—they tend to have long uphills, steep, techy downhills, and lots of all-mountain thrills for those with the skills, fitness and bike to match. The two trails listed here are just the start of SB’s intermediate-and-up options.
Chris Orr has been the glue that’s kept mountain bikers organized in Santa Barbara for years. Not only does he help keep trails open, he’s got serious skills on the bike.
Ride 1: Cold Spring Trail
Like many rides in Santa Barbara, the Cold Spring Trail descends from East Camino Cielo—the road along the ridgeline of the Santa Ynez Mountains that frames Santa Barbara’s postcard view to the east. This at times extremely technical trail tumbles downward across a mix of buff singletrack, chunky rock gardens and sinewy tracks that crisscross drainages with a fun assortment of tricky challenge sections.
The start of the Cold Spring Trail is marked by this interesting water tank. Photo by Don Palermini
The trail’s numerous chunder sections require your full attention and some momentum—things that are easier envisioned than executed on a first descent where route-finding and not crashing your brains out compete for your affections. Though following the trail is fairly simple, at a couple points Cold Springs presents you with some multiple choice switchbacks in the steepest, roughest sections—pick one and commit with confidence as they all come back.
Near the bottom things gets a little confusing—when you hit the utility fire road, go right and look for where Cold Springs continues as a singletrack into Gould Park. Even if you miss it, just keep going downhill and you’ll eventually hit East Mountain Drive, which puts you back in civilization.
On this and any of the rides coming back to town, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter hikers and equestrians—please be courteous and alert for all trail users. Though contentious in the past, the SBMTV has done yeoman’s work in brokering the peace, and we got nothing but friendly vibes from everyone we encountered.
At the top of many trails you’ll find a box of bike bells that you can borrow to help alert others of your approach. Just return them in the box at the bottom and the SBMTV will shuttle them back up.
We didn’t get many photos on Cold Spring because we didn’t want to stop and risk ruining the flow. This YouTube video from 5150dhbiker gives you a feel for the route’s continuous chunder.
There are a number of ways to get to the top, but our favorite is the six-mile-climb up Romero Canyon Road—a former automobile road that’s been reclaimed by nature and slowly regresses from nearly-paved to fire road to singletrack. Starting off Bella Vista Drive in the tony berg of Montecito, the track offers stunning views of Oprah’s house, the Santa Barbara coastline and the Channel Islands beyond. Even when fogged-in—as it often is on summer mornings—the visuals are breathtaking. Once you make it to the top, turn left and take East Camino Cielo to the trailhead at the water tank pictured above.
Shuttling up is another option—take Gibralter Road up to the top and hang a right on East Camino Cielo to the trailhead.
Let’s be very clear, this ain’t no beginner ride. Cold Spring is steep, technical and tough—especially so after burning some matches on the long climb up Romero Canyon. We saw some riders in full-face helmets with full armor and on DH bikes. At the very least don some armor with your half-shell lid, ride a 160mm-travel or more bike, and we can’t stress how good idea the aforementioned warning bell is.
While it can occasionally get hot during the summer, Santa Barbara’s costal location and occasional fog keeps the temperature moderate for year-round riding. Things can get toasty up the mountain but Santa Barbara’s temperatures average between 65 and 75 degrees all year.