Alone among the Oaks of Portero Park
Potrero Regional Park hides in a spacious, live-oak-covered corner of Potrero Valley, near the forgotten south-county hamlet of Potrero — east of the Tecate turnoff and west of Campo. The word potrero is Spanish for “pasturing place,” and the springtime appearance of the place is pleasing green, especially this year, which has been a particularly wet one in these parts. The twisting but scenic drive to the park from San Diego, via Highway 94, measures 44 miles (from downtown) and takes about an hour.
You’ll find plenty of peace and quiet here during most of the year. The many acres’ worth of oak-shaded picnic tables are typically lightly used, except during certain periods in spring, when lots of people from both sides of the international border converge on the place. Same thing with regard to the campground, which offers 39 drive-up sites plus 7 sites specifically for tent camping. For group campouts, the park seems ideal with its ball fields, playgrounds, and a dance pavilion.
As for hiking, the park contains less than a mile of trails, covering the northeast corner of the park’s 115 acres. April through May is the best time to ramble along these short, looping trails to enjoy the fresh, green chaparral landscape, plus a variety of wildflowers. Need we mention, though, the possibility of spooking a rattlesnake along these trails?
Currently, a 500-acre parcel of land adjacent to and northeast of Potrero Park is being acquired by public entities as part of the Multiple Species Conservation Program. According to plan, in the coming years, Potrero’s trails will be linked to an extensive network of public trails in the new preserve.
The juxtaposition of oak woodland and chaparral at Potrero Park attracts hawks, golden eagles, acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays, and other flying creatures of interest to birdwatchers. Toward evening twilight, coyotes, deer, raccoons, and skunks emerge from their daytime lairs on the fringes of the park. Bats flit overhead, scooping up flying insects with their wings.
If and when your interest in nature study subsides, you can always drive over to nearby Campo, with its historic stone store and railroad museum. Or, assuming you have your United States passport (for return to the U.S.), you can visit Tecate, Baja California — with its 100,000+ residents, a brewery, restaurants, and a colorful town square — just ten minutes away.
Day-use hours for Potrero Park are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; extended to sunset on the weekends. Day-use fee is $3, with camping fees ranging from $19 to $24 per night. For more information, call County Parks at 858-565-3600.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
Potrero Regional Park
Visit Potrero Park for peace and quiet — though not necessarily in the springtime.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 44 miles
Hiking length: Less than a mile • Difficulty: Easy