The air was thick with the sweet, fragrant scent of purple lupine. Nothing could penetrate the refreshing aroma that literally stopped me in my tracks while mountain biking through a botanical garden of wildflowers on the steep, sweeping slopes of Figueroa Mountain.
Located off Highway 154, 45 minutes northeast of Goleta, Figueroa Mountain Road is arguably the most stunning backcountry drive in Central California. It’s a 13-mile tour of meandering, two-lane country road slicing through a breathtaking rural countryside, shaded by coastal live oak trees frequented by western kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds and yellow-billed magpies in a melodious cacophony of birdsong.
Fortunately, there’s not much traffic on this scenic drive, so I took my time and enjoyed the ride to the western fringes of Los Padres National Forest. I timed my ascent during the spring when Figueroa is carpeted in a spectacular floral display following winter rains.
As I rose through dense, shaded groves of oak trees and digger pines, owl’s clover, shooting stars and filaree abounded in open, lush, green meadows. Every turnout was an invitation for exploring or possibly a picnic lunch.
Farther up the mountain I found large, towering big-cone fir trees, ponderosa and Jefferey pines at the higher elevations. Entire hillsides were ablaze in California poppies mixed in with a splash of purple and bush lupines, chocolate lilies and scarlet Indian paintbrush. There’s an array of moderate trails to hike leading to secluded points on the mountain. Sometimes these trails lead to a profusion of wildflowers only enjoyed by those who get out and explore.
Another highlight awaited on the summit, at Figueroa Mountain Lookout at 4,500 feet. Steadily pedaling on the graded fire road, the climb to the top got easier in the shade of the forest. The moderate pace allowed me to scour over the edges of the road for dense clusters of wildflower, which were many.
If You Go
From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara take Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass to Figueroa Mountain Road.
For a weekly update, call the wildflower hotline at 818.768.3533.
When I stopped for lunch, the 360-degree views took me as far as the Pacific Ocean to the west, Lake Cachuma to the south, and the rugged Santa Barbara backcountry to the north and east. Figueroa Mountain is regularly listed on the wildflower hotline as one of California’s best wildflower venues.
If a day trip isn’t enough to quench your thirst for exploring, then consider camping at one of the 32 sites nestled in the pines and manzanita trees. The sites are close to a number of hiking trails, and you won’t miss the epic sunrises and sunsets that set Figueroa Mountain aglow. The combination of last year’s wildfires, winter’s steady rains and the recent warm weather could lead to a terrific bloom on Figueroa Mountain in the coming weeks.