Distance – 2.5 miles one way
Elevation Gain – 1,000′
Trail Conditions – good dirt road all the way
Difficulty – Moderate
Topo – Figueroa Mountain
Though not a long ride, the road leads through beautiful pine forests to the top of Figueroa Mountain. From its 4,500′ crest you can see everywhere. There is a small picnic area at the overlook and also at Pino Alto, where you will find a short self-guided nature trail. You have Coulter pines on either side of you all the way up. You can extend the ride by starting at Sawmill Basin.
From Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos follow Figueroa Mountain Road 11.5 miles to turnoff leading up to the lookout. It is .5 miles beyond the Catway turnoff. The turnoff is well marked and there is ample parking near it.
If you want to choose one ride to do in the spring, say sometime between late March and the end of April, this is the one to do. When the California poppies turn fluorescent orange, the bush lupine open their lilac colored blossoms, filling the air with a pungent aroma, and scores of other wildflowers carpet the upper slopes of Figueroa Mountain, this place becomes Alice’s Wonderland.
My personal recommendation would be to start at Sawmill Basin. The countryside there is almost flat and this is where the floral display begins in earnest. From this point it is just a half mile to the Catway Road and about a mile further to the spur route leading to the overlook.
The road is moderately steep, rising 1,000′, but the grade is relatively even so the uphill is spread throughout the entire 2.5 miles. The first half of the road winds around the east side of Figueroa Mountain through almost solid Coulter pine forests. It then turns sharply back to the west as it goes around to the back side of the mountain. The forests are equally thick and views of the Santa Ynez Valley are replaced by those of the back country.
Two miles from the start of the spur road a turnout to the left leads to Pino Alto, a Sierra-like picnic area that has interpretive information as well as a short self-guided nature trail. The Figueroa Mountain Overlook is an additional .5 mile on the main spur. Shortly up this you will notice a road that leads diagonally off to the left. This goes to Goddard, another very nice picnic site.
Above this turnoff the pine trees seem to fade away and the top of the mountain is almost all open grasslands and wildflowers. The lookout can be seen from here. Once it was manned 24 hours a day during fire season, though today it is a relic of the past.
What can I say about the view from the top? Nothing really. It is too much for words. You will just have to experience it for yourself.