• Distance 112 km
  • Elevation gain 1280m
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

Is this one of the best bike rides in Southern California? We think so.

It includes some of our favourite roads in the region; quiet lanes take you into the middle of nowhere.

You see acre upon acre of vineyards, wild open pastures, gorges, forest and arid mountain peaks. There are scurrying ground squirrels, soaring buzzards and sun-weathered trees. The roads are quiet, and you feel like you’ve seen behind the scenes of the Santa Ynez Valley.

With 112 km and nearly 1,300 m of climbing, you’ll end your ride with a deep sense of satisfaction.

For a shorter ride, look at our wine country cycling route 1 and route 2.  For an alternative wine country ride, look at our route 4.

All metrics in this article are approximate.

Highlights

Do we have to pick? It’s tough as this route includes our favourite roads in the region. But if you push us, we’d say Drum Canyon Road and Cat Canyon Road are the stand-out sections.

Drum for its sense of splendid isolation.

Cat for its vineyards, swooping descent and random oil field at the bottom. Cycling through that was not exactly beautiful, but it was certainly unusual and memorable.

Road stretching up Cat Canyon surrounded by grass fieldsEmpty roads on Cat Canyon 
At the bottom of Drum Canyon near a wineryAt the bottom of Drum Canyon Road
Far-reaching view through the trees near the top of Drum Canyon RoadViews across the Santa Ynez valley from Drum Canyon

Route notes

1. Santa Ynez to Ballard Canyon to Drum Canyon: 0-42 km

It’s an easy warm up between Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. You then head south down glorious Ballard Canyon Road, with its quiet fields and pretty vineyards. 10km on the unremarkable 246 (there’s traffic but also a hard shoulder) before the fun commences and you turn up Drum Canyon Road. The opening kilometres of Drum are at a gradual 2.5% average gradient, past farms and between the valley sides.

Gradients increase as you hit the switchbacks and averages sit at around 5% to the top. Sadly there’s no spectacular view to greet you.

Take care on the descent: the road surface is cracked, broken and potentially dangerous.

 

2. Drum Canyon to Cat Canyon to Sisquoc: 42-67.5 km

You pass through the little lost-in-time village of Los Alamos (call in at Bob’s Well Bread (you can read more about it, here) if you’re feeling peckish) and it’s on to Cat Canyon. There’s a 3.5km ascent at a sedate 3.3% average followed by a great descent to Sisquoc.

Empty road and fields around Ballard CanyonBallard Canyon Road
Bob's Well Bread is a great coffee stop on a bike ride around Santa Barbara wine countryBob’s Well Bread in Los Alamos
Pumpjack on Cat Canyon RoadPumpjack on Cat Canyon Road

3. Sisquoc to Foxen Canyon to Santa Ynez: 67.5-112 km

Coming into Sisquoc, you pick up Foxen Canyon Road, the road you’ll be riding for the next 35km. Luckily it’s a great ride, right through the heart of wine country. It’s a gradual climb until just past Zaca Mesa Winery and then a nice descent with wide sweeping turns and long straight sections.

The only trouble will be resisting temptation and not dumping the in favour of a tasting room… But if you can wait until you finish the ride and you’re back in Santa Ynez, there are a few places to choose from in town.

Union Hotel in Los AlamosUnion Hotel Los Alamos
Zaca Mesa Winery and road in front of itZaca Mesa winery and the wide open road
Horse grazing on Foxen Canyon RoadHorse grazes on Foxen Canyon Road

Café stops

Enjoy a stop at 47 km at Bob’s Well Bread in Los Alamos (read more, here). Or you could push on to tiny Sisquoc (67.5km) and pick up something basic at the historic General Store there.

A final option would be to take a 6km diversion (3 km each way) down Forest Rite 10N06 to Rancho Sisquoc Winery. It’s a beautiful spot, and there are picnic tables you can use. The owners also kindly refilled our water bottles.

 

Accommodation

We rode from the wonderful Farmhouse at MK Ranch, midway between Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. The 20-acre ranch is home to over 40 horses and other animals. There are plenty of facilities including a pool, play area, rose garden and fire pit.

Or take a look at our other accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to Santa Barbara County for cyclists.

If you’re not sure which town you want to stay in, our take on the best towns for cyclists in Santa Ynez valley might help.


Tips

Foxen Canyon Road features on the well-known Solvang Century ride. It gets busy at weekends, due to people visiting vineyards. Watch out for traffic.  Likewise, take particular care on Drum Canyon and the 246.

Take a look at our tips for cycling in Southern California before you set out.

Click here for our complete guide to planning a cycling holiday in Santa Barbara County.

Found this guide useful?

We’d love to hear from you – comment below or drop us a line.

Don’t miss our other ride guides on Santa Barbara County: see the related rides section above.

Check out our ultimate guide to cycling Santa Barbara County and other articles on the region, below.

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Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com in 2018 to help make it easy for cyclists to explore the world by bike. Today her mission is still inspiring cyclists to discover new places on two wheels – and doing what she can to make sure they have the best possible time while they’re there. Clare has visited 50+ destinations around the world, many of them by bike.

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2 Responses to “Wine country cycling (route 3): Ballard, Drum, Cat and Foxen Canyon loop”

  1. this was a full epic ride. agreed. stopped at bob’s breads. GREAT call. i also stopped at rancho sisquoc winery and fess parker. both super tasty wines (:

    thanks!
    nk

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