Tunnel Trail- Santa Barbara, California

by Jason Van Horn on January 31, 2010

in Blog, California Trails

All the cold and wet winter riding here has us longing for warmer climes and sunny weather. It has been an interesting time, especially after not even having a winter last year, (that was nice!) and living in the moderate weather of the Bay Area for the last several years. For now, I’ve been content with a the occasional DH shuttle session at our local secret trails, and flagging and scouting new trails here on the coast, but I can’t stop thinking about the warm weather further south. About a year ago we were kicking back on the sunny beaches of Santa Barbara, and checking out one of their sickest DH runs, the Tunnel Trail.


Rocks. Lots of them.

The Tunnel Trail is a popular destination is southern California, and it isn’t uncommon to see full crews of DH riders on prototype bikes there, testing the latest gear. When we were scouting another trail, we saw a truck load of employees from Intense finishing up a ride. As it is an easy drive up to the top drop off point via a nicely paved road, you can imagine the trail gets a lot of use.

Jason Liebrecht from San Diego

Jason Liebrecht from San Diego rocking a Demo 8 over lots of rock.

The trail is an intense ride down a rock strewn path that has so many baby heads that if you’re not careful, you will shake your fillings loose. It is the kind of trail where staying off the brakes and keeping your momentum is highly desired. A long travel DH bike with big tires in the ticket here, with a full complement of body armor.

It starts off humbly, but quickly become the intense trip it is known for. While is it definitely black diamond material, at slower paces, many sections are quite manageable on bikes with less travel. (but not at the speed we were going at)

Some sections are particularly gnar- especially sections with steeper grades combined with loose rock and narrow clearance. It can be disastrous if you loose your focus for even a second. I only had knee pads on at this point in our trip, and I seriously regretted it on my first run down.

Photo by Jason Liebrecht

Braaap. Photo by Jason Liebrecht

A bit of over confidence was a bad idea too, as I was loving it so much I decided to take the lead for a bit early on in the ride. After a particularly bumpy section, I started getting a bit fatigued, and instead of pausing for a bit, I ended up getting off-line for a second at at bad spot. In this second I ended up banging my shin solidly on a rock, and bouncing straight into the ground. That rock ended up leaving me with a nice sized lump on my shin as a souvenir.


ow. Before the swelling began.

Our buddy Chris joined us after he got off work, and as we needed to pick up the shuttle vehicle, I was able to get a second run down the trail. After I pounded a Red Bull, and dropped some Ibuprofin tablets and pumped myself back up, the second run was the highlight of my day, as I was able to get solidly in my groove and redeem myself. Chris showed me some lines I missed on the first run that made banging through some seriously burly sections way more flowy, and despite the massive throbbing shinner, we railed the second run of the day.


Point. Shoot. Hold on. Boom.

Needless to say, after two runs, I was beat. However, with my Session properly kitted out with a new Boxxer up front, I can’t wait to get back down there.

Watch for other users

Unfortunately, the close proximity to town, also means it is extremely popular with the local hikers. User conflict is a hot button issue in Santa Barbara which has been minimized by the work of the Santa Barbara Trail Volunteers, a local trail advocacy group. Bear bells are available at the top and bottom of the trail, and they ask that you put one on your bike before dropping into the trail to warn hikers of the progression of your descent. There is a drop off box at the bottom of the trail when you are done.

Pin it. Photo: Chris Orr

Pin it- brakes are bad on sections like this. Photo: Chris Orr

Trail Conditions

The trail was among the many that took a major hit from a serious fire last summer, and the fire rendered much of it unridable. Since then it has been closed. However, the local groups have been busy doing trail work, and that could change at any time. According to our buddy Chris Orr with SBTV, although the trail has been getting heavy use from bikers and hikers, the Forest Service is keeping it closed until the end of the “rainy” season.

For more information on the trail, click here.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Perry January 31, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Tunnel is indeed awesome. Very technical but rideable top-to-bottom on a hardtail if you use some finesse. I used to ride up gibraltar or romero and drop down tunnel on my XC rig without any problems. I’ve since moved away and the fires kept me from riding it the past year I was there but I miss it greatly!


Hack February 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm

This is on my list!


greg tatham April 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm

This trail is the real deal. I rode it on a full ridged monocog 29r by Redline, and that was a mistake. Don’t underestimate how gnarly it actually is! It’s extremely rocky, has plenty of smaller drops and super technical. Most of the trail has about a 100+ foot drop to the side of it. I would only recommend this trail to expert riders who don’t have a lot to loose. Charge it!


Landon Stace January 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I have to agree with Greg-this trail looks like the real deal. One wrong move and it’s a broken bone and a lots of blood! Looks like you left part of yourself on the trail! I’ve always wanted to get into this kind of stuff but the area I live in doesn’t exactly offer it. I hear Santa Barbara is good for this kind of stuff, good thing I stumbled across this. I’m planning a summer trip-maybe I can attempt to get my sea legs and try a few trails. Not as crazy as this of course but of a lesser degree! I’ll be staying at the Sandman Inn (www.thesandmaninn.com). Perfect for short trips-so excited!


Briana July 12, 2012 at 10:48 am

Tunnel trail is by far one of the better trails you can do in SB. Good trek up hill but well worth it once you reach the top. The sheer exhaustion is completely extinguished once you reach the top and see those views, my god. On a clear day, the islands are crystal clear and so is the city! It may be hot in the summer, but it is the best time to go. The Sandman Inn (www.thesandmaninn.com) is the place to stay if you want to hit the trails-close by and way too cheap.


Ad-HaterSandman September 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Nice secretive ads for sandman ^


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