Potrero John Trail

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Crossing the creek
Pines on the Potrero John Trail

Potrero John Trail

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest, north of Ojai. From the 101 freeway, take highway 33 north for 34 miles (21 miles north of Ojai and 6 miles north of the intersection with Rose Valley Road).  After crossing a bridge, you’ll see the sign for the Potrero John Trail.  Park at the side of the road in a a small dirt turnout.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo map: Lion Canyon
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: trip report here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8

This short trail in the Sespe Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest may be a little bit of a drive for most L.A. hikers, but it’s well worth checking out. This time of year, when snow dusts the rugged peaks above the canyon, the trail is particularly attractive.

From the small turnout, the Potrero John Trail heads down to the creek. For the next mile or so, you follow the water, crossing it several times. None of the crossings are particularly tricky, but you should always exercise caution, especially if the water level is high. There are a few fallen trees to climb around too, but overall the going is not to difficult. The scenic highlights include distant views of the higher Los Padres peaks, interesting sandstone on the canyon walls and the trickling stream.

After about a mile, the trail leaves the tight confines of the canyon and enters a field. (“Potrero”, by the way, is Spanish for meadow.) There are a few spots where the trail becomes a little ambiguous, but the main route shouldn’t be too hard to find. You make a couple of more creek crossings, and eventually you’ll see the campground across the water. The trail peters out at this point; you can either make this your turnaround point or ford the creek and sit at the Potrero John campground, under the shade of some giant oaks, before heading back.

Text and photography copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


  1. Omigod, there really is a waterfall. It felt like I was walking to end, the trail goes away a couple of times that i was second guessing myself. I did push and push. It just seems like it wasn’t there. Plus, i kept hesitating on taking chance only to that first comment. That sucks that I gave up.

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