Four Counties & Quatal Canyon Gravel Guide

Exploring takes risk and we do it for the reward.

I’ve been staring at Google Maps for years contemplating a Quatal Canyon gravel ride through the eastern side of Los Padres National Forest, but the holdback is for the same reasons we should always be skeptical.

Convincing a group of friends to drive over an hour for a ride that has not been highly frequented should set off some red flags.

While our loop was mostly road, the main attraction of dirt on Quatal Canyon had less then twenty attempts over all the years.

Normally, that tells me other people have tried and to look elsewhere, but I had one friend who claimed to complete it on a road bike and frankly this group has done dumber things, so why not.

My other big concern was getting sideswiped on this route because traveling up to Mt Pinos before and seeing the volume coming into our start at Pine Mountain Club made me wonder about how much rubbernecking we’d need to stay comfortable.

Luckily, that wasn’t much on an issue on this route (save for the short time we spent on Highway 166) making this a very focused experience.

The Mil Portrero Highway / Hudson Ranch segment to the Highway was a great way to being the ride with some climbing to start off with then mostly downhill for twenty miles.

Even on a day where riding through the clouds limited our views, the environment was exceptional enough to warrant a return trip.

What fascinated me the most was how quickly the landscaped transformed from a mountain top forest to the central coast blanketed with California gold.

We crossed into Ventura County unceremoniously a couple of times before hitting the highway where it became apparent we were in San Luis Obispo.

The turn to the historic Highway 33 which connects to Ojai and Ventura came quickly, as did our transition into Santa Barbara County as once again there was little to notate our boundaries.

While you might crave for more detail, you do move through quickly and if you understand the context of when this road was built in 1933, you appreciate how much things haven’t changed.

Even with the lack of surroundings, there are still easily accessible options before reaching Quatal Canyon.

The primary problem at the start obviously isn’t the grade, but the bumpiness below as even the early pavement doesn’t do any favors.

It’s also really odd to be riding on gravel in such a straight line even as we were rolling our way up which was a pleasant way of taking in the surroundings.

The pitch slowly crept up as the canyon closed in on us laying out a squiggly path through the most scenic part of the ride.

There are so many ways colors reveal themselves up here in their natural autumn shades.

Leaving a big climb to finish up a ride isn’t my cup of tea, but the taxing on this loop hadn’t been fierce after 50 miles of riding so a little punishment at the end was palatable.

The descent back into town was a cake topper for what had been a great day of riding.

I naturally try to set my expectations low and maybe even moreso for Quatal Canyon, but this is a trip worth making even though you may not be so sure…