Posted by: James Wapotich | May 11, 2012

Trail Quest: Matias Potrero

The Matias Trail is another of the lesser known trails found along Paradise Road. The trail leads to the campsite at Matias Potrero in the foothills along the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains for a shorter hike of a 2.5 miles roundtrip. The trail can also be incorporated into a longer loop hike of about 10 miles that leads one through a variety of great scenery and can include a visit to Gibraltar Dam.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara take State Route 154, over San Marcos Pass and turn right onto Paradise Road. Continue along Paradise Road, past the first river crossing, staying to the right at the Lower Oso Day Use Area and continuing towards Red Rock. The trailhead is on the right hand side of Paradise Road, just before the third river crossing; you’ll know if you’ve gone to far if you arrive at the Live Oak Day Use Area. Parking is found along side the road. An adventure pass is still required to park and camp in this part of the Los Padres National Forest.

Santa Ynez Mountains River Matias Potrero Santa Barbara Hike Los Padres National Forest

View near Matias Potrero

The Matias Connector Trail is marked with a sign and has a gate at the beginning and follows what looks like an access road to the powerlines. From the trailhead the trail climbs away from the Santa Ynez River through a mix of scrub oak and manzanita and offers a unique perspective as one is literally walking towards the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

The trail through this section is unshaded and is currently enjoying a show of wildflowers including a mix of yellow and purple lupine. At about the one-mile mark the Matias Connector Trail arrives at the Matias Trail, which along with the powerlines, runs roughly east to west, paralleling the Santa Ynez Mountains.

From this signed trail juncture heading west along the Matias Trail it is roughly 2.5 miles to the Arroyo Burro Road which can be used to extend the hike for some additional exploring or even create an alternate loop hike. The trail is in good shape, but can be somewhat indistinct in places where the wild grasses have taken over.

The Matias Trail to the Arroyo Burro Road passes through three canyons, two of which have water flowing in them this time of year. The trail is mostly unshaded except for the creek crossings and like the Matias Connector Trail is probably best hiked in the morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler.

Matias Potrero Santa Ynez River Santa Barbara Hike Trail Los Padres National Forest

View along the Matias Connector Trail

To continue towards Matias Potrero from the signed trail juncture follow the Matias Trail east towards Gibraltar Dam. Shortly after the intersection and just past the first powerline tower on your right, look for a trail on your left that heads down into a small, grassy valley. The trail is marked with one of those flexible carsonite trail signs.

The trail to Matias Potrero crosses a small, dry creek and then hooks right arriving at Matias Potrero Camp, which is nestled amongst the oak trees. The campsite has a klamath stove and a table, but no water and is said to be where the homestead of Matias Reyes was once located. Just past the campsite to the south is a small horse corral with a trough along the edge of another small pasture or potrero, lending credence to the name Matias Potrero. The hike to Matias Potrero is about 2.5 miles round trip.

Matias Potrero Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Hiking Trail

The Corral and Pasture at Matias Potrero

From here one can extend their hike and make a larger loop hike that leads through a variety of scenery and terrain. Returning from Matias Potrero to the main trail continue east along the Matias Trail towards Gibraltar Dam. Here the trail is more shaded and as with the rest of the trail offers some great views of the Santa Ynez River valley and surrounding mountains.

The trail continues to follow an old powerline access road, and although the road is now overgrown to more of a single track it does provide an interesting mix of feeling both spacious and remote at the same time. Because this also a quieter trail in terms of usage one will occasionally find evidence of bear, mountain lion, bobcat and coyote.

At about the 4-mile mark the Matias Trail arrives at the North Tunnel Trail. Here the Matias Trail ends, to the right the North Tunnel Trail continues up towards East Camino Cielo and to the left the Devil’s Canyon Trail continues down towards the Santa Ynez River.

For some Devil’s Canyon can be one of the highlights of this loop hike, and although the trail is slightly more overgrown than the Matias Trail, Devil’s Canyon definitely has the flavor of a backcountry trail.

From the Matias Trail the Devil’s Canyon Trail follows a side canyon for roughly the first mile. The trail starts off somewhat narrow and eroded and then drops down into the canyon following a side creek which then joins the main creek in Devil’s Canyon. The main creek through Devil’s Canyon often has water in it and with its mix of riparian plants and feeling of remoteness is reminiscent of places much deeper in the backcountry. And in the spirit of full disclosure the poison oak along the lower section of the trail is doing quite well.

The trail follows the creek through Devil’s Canyon and at about the 6-mile mark arrives at the Santa Ynez River just below Gibraltar Dam. From here one can either follow the access road west from the dam or take the Gibraltar Trail downstream along the river, both routes arrive back at the parking lot for the Red Rock trailhead. The trail along the river is a mile longer and involves several river crossings, but the views and opportunities for a swim can sometimes offset the extra distance.

From the Red Rock Trailhead it’s roughly 1.25 miles back to the Matias Connector Trailhead along Paradise Road. This last section of the hike does have the distinction of allowing one travel a familiar route at a slower pace and take in scenery that one might otherwise miss. The road crosses the Santa Ynez River five times along the way. The first four river crossings are easy rock hops, but the fifth requires some wading, however the water is not that deep. The full loop hike is roughly 9 or 10 miles depending on which route you take between Gibraltar Dam and the Red Rock trailhead.

Regardless of how far you go you’ll get to see some unique views of the Santa Ynez River valley and visit some of our local backcountry.

This article originally appeared in section A of the May 11th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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