This trail leads across the north side of the Santa Ynez Mountains through open fields of grass and a series of ridges from Arroyo Burro Road to Gibraltar Dam. With the exception of the ups and downs of the ridges, surprisingly the trail is almost level, and high enough above the valley floor to provide scenic views of the canyon and the San Rafael Mountains. You’ll find great trials sections and, if you continue across to Devil’s Canyon, a challenging last mile. On the way back you can stop along the river for a refreshing dip in one of the many pools.
The loop begins from the parking area at Lower Oso picnic area. From the picnic, area ride 0.8 miles to the White Oaks turnoff. Turn right and go down across the river to the start of Arroyo Burro Road. Ride up the road 2.8 miles to the Matias Potrero trailhead. It is marked by a small sign just beyond a large, open, grass-covered saddle.
Expectations for Riding the Santa Barbara Area Trails
Country trails are multi-use trails and as such are used by several thousand users each week. If you are riding downhill on these trails, expect to encounter them on your way. Your cooperation will help make everyone's experience a safe and pleasant one.
Ten things every mountain biker who rides the front country trails is expected to do:
Matias Potrero Trail was once a dirt road servicing power lines that were constructed in the 1960s. Now it is overgrown enough to have become a trail. It follows the Santa Ynez Fault along the lower north slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Bluish-green serpentine upthrust along the fault has created a soil which supports a swath of grassy slopes and potreros (pastues), making this a picturesque area.
The Matias Potrero Trail can be done either as a short or long loop, depending on the amount of time you have and your condition. The trail meanders across a series of canyons and ridges and stretches from Arroyo Burro Road to Angostura Pass. In the spring, when the grasses are green and the wildflowers out, this is one of the valley’s prettiest places.
Once you’ve made the climb up Arroyo Burro Road most of the hard work is behind you. The trail immediately cuts up over a small saddle and down into the first of several small watersheds. You’ll know almost immediately whether you like this kind of riding, because it is different; the tall grasses crowd both sides of the trail, and in many places it is hard to see the tread.
The trail leads around a number of these small valleys and over a series of knolls, with gentle downhills and climbs and a few places where you’ll need to walk your bike. It is 2.5 miles to the intersection where the short loop turns off and heads down to the Paradise Road. To complete the short loop turn left and ride downhill one mile. The route connects to the road at a spot about a quarter-mile below near Live Oak picnic area. From there it is 3.3 miles back to your car.
For the longer loop, continue on the trail. Matias Potrero Campground is located in the next canyon, a small site in the V of a small canyon. A trail leads down to the camp, but rather than heading down to it, look for a high trail a few yards beyond the trail sign. The high trail cuts around and above the camp, thus avoiding the drop and climb. You can ride down through the camp and catch the high trail on the other side, but the low trail is pretty steep.
Follow the high trail two miles farther east. You’ll climb about 400 feet over the first half-mile of this section until you are at about 2,000-foot elevation, and from this point on the ups and downs through the creeks and knolls will be much less of a grind. Nevertheless you may find some places you’ll need to walk.
Two miles beyond Matias Potrero Campground you’ll find a trail intersection just above a narrow saddle. This separates the drainage which leads down to the Red Rock parking lot from Devil’s Canyon. There is a beautiful old wooden sign marking the intersection, though it is now lying on the ground. This marks the end of the Matias Potrero Trail. North Tunnel Trail begins here and heads up to Angostura Pass, but the trail is too steep to ride; you’ll find yourself pushing quite a bit of the way. The left fork leads down into Devil’s Canyon and 1.5 miles of slightly more difficult riding to Gibraltar Dam.
From there is is 8 miles along the Santa Ynez River via Red Rock Trail and Paradise Road to Lower Oso.