Difficulty– Moderately easy
Elevation Gain– Slightly downhill to Highway 246, a gentle uphill into Solvang and 500′ gain in Ballard Canyon
The loop takes you down Alamo Pintado past the mission to Solvang, the perfect place to stop for a pastry before heading back to Mattei’s Tavern. Ballard Canyon is one of the prettiest hideaways in the area, a long, thin valley formed by the creek running through the middle of it. The canyon is isolated, with few cars and lots of scenery. You may even spot a few bison grazing in the hills.
The Ballard Canyon loop combines the charm of the Alamo Pintado valley, a ride through Solvang, and the country feeling of Ballard Canyon, making for a very pleasant 2-3 hour ride.
From Mattei’s Tavern follow Grand Avenue south .9 miles, curve right across the creek and then turn left and follow Alamo Pintado for 4.2 miles to Highway 246. Turn right and ascend the slight rise into Solvang. Mission Santa Inez is on the left at the crest of the hill and is well worth a visit. Once you reach the first traffic light in town you will find things bustling. Solvang never seems to lack its share of tourists.
Ride very carefully through town. Fortunately, you will be turning right shortly. Atterdag is at the second traffic light, leading past several schools and up Chalk Hill where you will have the first of several climbs. Several hundred yards of uphill bring you up onto a knoll where you’ll have one last view back down on the river valley before a fast downhill section takes you to the Ballard Canyon intersection.
Turning left takes you to the lower part of Ballard Canyon Road. It is the best route if you are heading towards Buellton but would rather not ride on Highway 246. After the stop sign, to continue on the loop ride, curve to the right onto Ballard Canyon. A short climb brings you up into the upper canyon, which is actually not a canyon but a very pretty valley. The road is very quiet and rustic, level for the first part then rising steadily to a high point looking out Los Olivos and the San Rafael Mountains. A quick drop down leads to Highway 154. Mattei’s Tavern is just to the right.
To make this a slightly longer and more strenuous trip rather than turning on Atterdag, continue on Highway 246 through Solvang and follow it 2 miles to the lower end of Ballard Canyon Road. This intersects Highway 246 .7 miles before Buellton. This adds 3.5 miles to the ride but it does mean several miles of riding next to fast moving cars. The lower section of Ballard Canyon leads through a narrow and very pretty canyon for a mile then rises several hundred feet before dropping down to the Chalk Hill intersection. Bear left here and follow the original route.