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Catway Road

Narrow Ridge Leads from Figueroa to the Zaca Peak Overlook


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Catway Road is an excellent dirt road which begins 1 mile above the Figueroa Ranger Station. It cuts across the west flank of Figueroa Mountain and then follows a prominent ridgeline for 8 miles to a dead end at Wildhorse overlook. The Catway offers excellent rides and, with the exception of several short, steep uphill sections, is gradual enough for all levels of riders.

The ridge route will provide you one of the most surprising excursions to be found in the Santa Barbara area. The road is smooth enough for those who only like to ride on pavement, yet primitive enough in feeling to give you a real taste of what the back country is all about.

For several miles the Catway undulates its way around the west edge of Figueroa Mountain. Then suddenly you come to the first of many saddles - or windows - through which you can look out and down on the San Rafael Wilderness. It is a special sight.

Around the corner the road turns left and from this point you follow the crest up and over a series of knolls (they are steep but not too long) which lead you closer and closer to Zaca Peak and farther and farther back into time.

There are plenty of picnic spots and places to enjoy the views, and if you feel like getting off your bike for a while, hikes to the Zaca Overlook, Zaca Lake, or down to the Manzana to soak in the creek or experience the pioneer homesteads.

RIDE INFORMATION

Distance - 8 miles one way

Elevation Gain - 800’ to Zaca Peak; the road rises and falls along the way

Trail Conditions - Good dirt road all the way

Difficulty - Moderate, though much easier if you ride only as far as the Zaca Peak turnoff; one tough climb a half mile in length

Camping Options - With enough water, camping out on the Zaca overlook or along the main ridge would be spectacular. No fires are allowed

Topo - Figueroa Mountain and Zaca Lake

HIGHLIGHTS

The Catway Road provides a wonderful way to get a feeling for the back country. The road wanders through pine forests and steep, grass-covered hillsides for 8 miles. The first half is along the western slopes of Figueroa Mountain; the last half along a bony ridgeline leading to Zaca Peak. The views looking out over the San Rafael Wilderness are great.

DIRECTIONS

From Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, take Figueroa Mountain Road 11.0 miles to the Catway turnoff. It is a half mile beyond the Figueroa Mountain Ranger Station.

TOPOS

Two topographical maps, Figueroa Mountain and Bald Mountain, cover most of the routes included on this map. For rides to Zaca Peak and the area west of it you will also need the Zaca Lake topo. If you ride beyond Hell’s Half Acre, the San Rafael Mountain topo might also be helpful.

THE RIDE

For a short ride that ends with views over the entire San Rafael Wilderness, you can’t beat the trip out to the Figueroa Jeepway and back. From Figueroa Mountain Road, the Catway rises gradually for 2.4 miles to the Black Willow Springs trailhead, gaining 550’. The saddle here provides the first views, with the Black Willow and Fir Canyon drainages directly below you and San Rafael Mountain in the far distance. From there it is just .3 mile to the Jeepway, and 180 degree views of the back country.

At this point the Catway turns to the left and follows the top of a long ridge that ends at Wildhorse Peak. From here on the riding is a bit more difficult as the road yo-yos up and over a series of knolls and peaks, several of which are fairly steep.

The steepest is a mile beyond the Jeepway. The climb is a half mile long but seems like forever. Just before the spur road to Zaca Peak, a second uphill awaits you, though it isn’t as steep. The top of this ridge marks the high point along the Catway and from it you are looking directly down on Manzana Creek, the Castle Crags, and Hurricane Deck.

You are also looking almost directly into the Zaca Lake drainage. To see the lake you need to go a bit further. But this entails a long downhill ride which you will have to return back up later. Cedros Saddle is at the bottom of this 500’ elevation drop. On one side of the saddle, the Zaca Trail leads down to the lake; on the other the Sulphur Springs Trail winds down into the Manzana drainage.

From Cedros Saddle it is an additional 1.75 miles to the Wildhorse overlook. There are more ups and downs, though the ride is scenic and provide more views of Zaca Lake, and at the end, a panorama of the lower Sisquoc River watershed.

Zaca Lake is privately owned and is open only by prior arrangements.

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