Distance-Total distance 33 miles: 9 miles up to the Buckhorn Trail; 5.5 miles down to Buckhorn Camp; 3.5 miles down Indian Creek; 10 miles up Camuesa Road; and 5 miles back down to Upper Oso.
Elevation Gain-2,485’ gain from Upper Oso to the start of the Buckhorn Trail; 1,750’ drop down to Buckhorn Camp; 400’ loss down Indian Creek; 1,800’ of elevation gain up Camuesa Road
Trail Conditions-Both the Buckhorn and Indian Creek trails are in need of work. Check web site for more updated reports
Difficulty-Strenuous to Hard Core; first 7 miles on dirt road; next 5 is Level 2 single track down into Buckhorn Canyon and then Level 2 and 3 single track for 3.5 miles down Indian Creek.
Topo-San Marcos Pass and Little Pine Mountain
This, the ride to Little Pine, and the Gibraltar Loop are the best three rides in the lower Santa Ynez River drainage. The Buckhorn ride combines much of what the Little Pine Ride has to offer, as well as 10 miles of exquisite single track riding in Buckhorn Canyon and along lower Indian Creek. There is a real feeling of wildness about the ride.
From Upper Oso, ride up the Little Pine road for 9 miles to the Buckhorn Trail intersection. The trail is 1.5 miles beyond the Chalk Bluff switchbacks leading across the steep east face of Little Pine. There is an easy-to-spot trail sign marking the start of the trail.
The route to the start of the Buckhorn Trail is up Little Pine Road. This takes you up past the Camuesa Road intersection (you’ll come back out this way), across the Chalk Bluffs, and then along the eastern shoulder of Little Pine Mountain.
The first three-fourths mile of riding goes through the Oso Narrows, a beautiful section where the Matilija Sandstone cuts across the canyon. This is a good time to warm up the legs, and if you are like me and need a lot of time before your legs loosen up, you might think about starting the ride from Lower Oso, which gives you an extra mile and fifteen minutes or so to stretch out.
Once you pass the trail leading to Nineteen Oaks the riding becomes much more strenuous and from here to the Camuesa Road intersection (5 miles ahead) it is pretty steady uphill. Almost immediately you will begin climbing straight out of the canyon on a series of switchbacks. Because of sliding hillsides, one of the old switchbacks has been eliminated, making the first two even steeper. Once you are past these, however, the climb is steady but not too difficult.
It will take you an hour to an hour and a half to reach the Camuesa intersection. At this point you will have gained 1,600’ and have another 900’ of gain awaiting you to the trailhead. This is a great spot to rest for a bit before the final climb.
Once you are back on your bike, an easy mile of slight uphill and a stretch of downhill bring you to the foot of the Chalk Bluffs. I always feel like once I am past this section that I am really out in the back country. The switchbacks leading up to the final climb across the steep bluffs are actually much easier than they appear from below. However, the final switchback is a tough one, with short steep sections forcing you to pedal hard. What a feeling it is to turn the corner!
Once you are on the back side of the bluffs you’ll have an almost level half mile to regain your legs and then a relatively mellow climb up to the trailhead. Look for a trail leading right and down into Buckhorn Canyon once you reach the top of the first knoll. An easily spotted sign marks the trailhead.
The trail leads down into Buckhorn Canyon, through 5 miles of chaparral and winding canyon, thick with trees and riparian growth and complete with a feeling of remoteness and solitude.
At first the path drops steeply down through the chaparral. The Monterey Shale is loose, making the riding somewhat squirrely, and in places you will want to walk your bike. Then it flattens out and enters a lovely, almost level canyon. Deep and narrow, filled with a canopy of rose bushes, oak and sycamore, you’ll wish the trail would continue on forever and ever.
Unfortunately it lasts only 3 miles. You’ll know you are near the end when you reach Lower Buckhorn Camp, a half mile up from Indian Creek. This is a great place to park for the night and an excellent base to use for exploring the Dick Smith Wilderness by foot.
The good news is that this isn’t the end of the single tracking. There are still almost 4 miles of it ahead of you along Indian Creek as it meanders down to Camuesa Road. Once you reach the road there are several choices you might make. The most hard core route would be out Pendola Road to Romero Saddle and then down the Romero Road to Montecito. If you have a friend drop you off at Upper Oso in the morning, this is a hard ride but very possible for those in good shape.
Those who want to extend the single track even more will want to turn left and follow Pendola Road down to Mono Campground and then take Mono Creek Trail to the Santa Ynez River. A short uphill section up Forbush Trail will take you to Gibraltar Trail, which you can then ride back down through Red Rock to Lower Oso and your car.
The best choice is to turn right and continue back up on the Camuesa Road. It is 10 miles to the Little Pine road and then 5 miles of screaming downhill back to Upper Oso.
For the first mile Camuesa Road rises steadily, then in the next mile drops down into Camuesa Canyon. The downhill is fun but unfortunately you lose everything you just gained. The next 3 miles involves fairly easy but steady uphill riding through oak meadows and short, narrow and pretty canyons. Middle Camuesa Camp is 5.6 miles along the way and this would also be a nice place to camp. Beyond it, the road leads through a long, thin meadow for a mile then turns left and ascends out of the canyon. In a mile you come to a high point and from there you can see the Camuesa/Buckhorn intersection.
A side road also leads from this point to the top of Camuesa Peak, which involves a gain of 300’ and a mile’s ride (have you got the energy?). From the top of the peak you’ll find yourself looking straight down on Gibraltar Reservoir. Look for the canyon on the north side of the lake which looks like it is filled with silt. Actually it is. This is where the material dredged from the lake’s bottom (in a valiant effort to keep it from silting in) is being put.
From the high point, several short drops and climbs lead to Buckhorn Road and from there it is all downhill.