Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Johnson Ranch: San Luis Obispo

Johnson Ranch is the newest addition to San Luis Obispo's open space park inventory. It's not a large park, the main trail only offering about 4 miles of easy going, single track hiking, but it is a beautiful park, maybe even strikingly so at certain times of the year.

I was fortunate enough to happen upon it on a recent business trip to the San Luis Obispo area. Heading towards a more familiar trail at the end of the day, I spied the parking lot and trailhead from the highway as I was nearing my hotel. After a quick U-turn, I found a handful of friendly local hikers and moutain bikers who were making the best of the fading light and expansive green hillsides decorated with a narrow brown ribbon of trail threaded along the undulating glades.

The new park has gained more than a few online fans who speak of the history of the ranch and its environs. In the spring, the park's hills can be verdant, lush. During the summer months, the dry grasses give the landscape a soft, satisfying and warm glow, accented with deep green oaks offering welcome shade.

The trail is supplemented with a number of wooden bridges that help you to navigate across ravines and a year round stream, the habitat of a small number of steelhead trout. As such, a good portion of the park, while open to view and enjoy from a distance, is so sensitive that hikers are not allowed.

Unfortunately, a growing number of feral pigs haven't been told of the sensitive nature of the area and have made themselves a bit of a nuisance. In addition to tearing up some countryside, they've been stirring up sediments in the stream making life for the rare steelheads a bit tougher. Some hikers have reported confronting the pigs, but no injuries have resulted from the encounters.

Johnson Ranch is certainly not a destination hike, but if you find yourself in the San Luis Obispo area for any reason, do take some time to check this place out. There is a remarkable, sprawling oak tree that spreads up, back into the ground and then out again that makes the trip worth it. The trail travels beneath this wonderful tree, so you can't miss it.

The link below will lead you SLO's Park and Recreation website. Other Open Space Parks are listed, including the Irish Hills Natural Reserve, which has some very sweet trails that I will describe later.

SLO Open Space Parks