The trail begins where the water crosses the road, just before you reach Nira Campground. There is a large Forest Service sign and a sign-in box at the trailhead.
At about 1.3 miles you reach Potrero camp right at a creek crossing. Some maps erroneously list it as Cold Water Camp, but Cold Water is actually further.
There is a trail junction heading off to the right, just after crossing the creek, marked with a rusty metal sign. This is Potrero Trail. Follow it.
The trail heads uphill and at about the 3.5 mile mark there is a delightful oak tree meadow where the trail goes downhill for a spell, and passes large rock formations. If you do stop to see the rocks, do NOT leave any gifts, and especially do not burn any sage.
Continuing, the Potrero Trail becomes quite steep toward the top. You will know you are getting close to the Hurricane Deck Trail junction when you cross a small field of star thistle. Star thistle is an invasive plant with a yellow flower in spring, and sharp thorns any time of year. Wear gators.
At the intersection of Potrero and Hurricane Deck trails at the 4.5 mile mark, there is a fallen metal sign. The trail follows the prominent ridge. The southern side of the mountain ridge is very steep and barren. while the north side is chocked with chaparral. You will head west along this ridge, which is toward the left.
The trail is easy to lose, but not too hard to follow if you stay alert.
From the junction it is about 5 miles to Manzana Schoolhouse and campsite. First 3 miles of the trail are more or less OK but last 2 miles to Manzana Schoolhouse are overgrown and easy to lose in many places. This is especially true in the oak meadow (I call it the enchanted forest) and switchbacks as you come off the deck and drop down to the Sisquoc River valley. But it is gorgeous.
Once you have descended into the Sisquoc Valley, it's only a short distance to the Schoolhouse. It can be tricky to find the right way to get to the trail, but as long as you aim toward the river you will cross paths with the Manzana trail. If you can do a pretty good job of finding the route, you may reach the junction with the Manzana and the Hurricane Deck trails which is marked with a sign. You will turn left at the sign, or in other words, go down stream or to the west.
The Schoolhouse camp should appear after a little while, after crossing the creek. It is located at the confluence of the Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. It's a large camp with amenities for horses and a john overlooking the mighty Sisquoc.
To complete the loop, follow the Manzana trail as it leaves the camp, upstream on the Manzana, or again, to the left. The trail is relatively easy for the last 8.5 miles back to your car, with many creek crossings. In some times of the year you will probably get wet feet.
The total distance is about 18 beautiful miles.
Santa Barbara Hikes has introduced many people to our front country trails and wilderness areas. Unfortunately, this may have contributed to an increase in littering and vandalism. Please accept the promise not to trash our wilderness, and tell your friends to do the same.
Diane ~ Santa Barbara Hikes.