Background photo - U.S. #5 Pikes Peak CO.

To the observatory

Photos from Michael Foster, Goleta, CA


Hover cursor over segment slices (left) for exact  grade of a particular segment. Map route (bottom) colors correlate with elevation legend colors.

Note:  Click on “View full route" (top left) which opens the Refugio Road RideWithGPS page.  Hover over the distance line at the spot you would like to begin a sub-  segment for this climb.  Click your mouse on the start point and drag the vertical graphing line the distance you wish to obtain sub-detail from, then release the  mouse at the end point.  This will give you the following sub-detail for the selected segment in the “Metrics” window top right of the page:  (a) distance, (b) elevation  gained and lost, (c) max grade, (d) average grade (e) that segment's climb category – e.g. Cat 1, HC, etc., and (f) FIETS score for the segment.

Cycling Santa Barbara

Refugio Road

Ride Description

 Refugio Road is one of two Top 100 Climb in the Santa Barbara, CA area (#59 Gibraltor Rd is just 25 miles east in Santa Barbara).  The climb begins just off Hwy 101, 25 miles north of the Santa Barbara city limits and climbs 10 miles into the Santa Ynez Mountains which run parallel to the Pacific Ocean.  The road is for the most part one lane and very rough for the first five miles, although it does improve at the 5 mile mark when we turn onto Camino Cielo (Spanish for "Road to the Sky").  We started our May, 2015 climb in the morning and were greeted by birds chirping and roosters crowing.  We pass by an avocado orchard and the Circle Bar B ranch (horseback riding available) in the first mile and are then virtually alone for the next 9-10 miles, initially travelling through a lower wooded area which yields to chaparral,coastal sage scrub and grasslands as we climb higher into the Santa Ynez Mountains. Refugio Pass is at mile 5.1 (8.2% to this point, ascending 2,040').  After the first few lower miles we are treated to exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean to the west.  The road ends at a radio tower and what appears to be an abandoned (or very dated at the least) observatory which was apparently formerly used to track rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base 45 miles to the northwest.  

Note - the alternate route is to stay right at mile 9.8 where the road forks either left (to go up the remaining .2 mile to the Observatory; note the most popular Strava segment stops at the gate with a 7.71 FIETS Index) or continue 1/3 mile and 133' more climbing to Santa Ynez Peak (this actually has a higher FIETS Rating at 8.80 but for some reason is much less popular than the route we charted - Map).  Thanks much to Michael Foster of Goleta, CA for his input on this climb.

Of historic note, Ronald and Nancy Reagan once owned Rancho del Cielo, a 688 acre ranch adjacent to Refugio Pass, known as the Western White House (located at the 5 mile mark of the climb) - "From the first day we saw it, Rancho del Cielo cast a spell over us. No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does. ~ Ronald Reagan"  The Reagan Ranch.

Roadway / Traffic:  The roadway is one lane for the majority of the climb, but there is minimal traffic and this is a safe and private climb.  Caution on the descent is advised due to rough roadway conditions (particularly the bottom 5 miles) which includes potholes and loose gravel. 

From the fork at the observatory to Santa Ynez Peak

Alternate Route - To Santa Ynez Peak



  • Distance:                                10.0 miles                  

  • Beginning elevation:            409'

  • Ending elevation:                 3,951'

  • Elevation gained:                 3,783'

  • Average Grade:                   7.4%

  • Fiets Index:                           8.33
  • Location:  Climb begins 2.7 miles up Refugio Rd from Hwy 1  25 miles north of Santa Barbara, CA and 120 miles north of LAX  at 34.50673, -120.06422  latitude/longitude.