Old SLO Hills
Hike Johnson Ranch Open Space Near San Luis Obispo
On your trek in Johnson Ranch,asprawling 242-acre open space south of San Luis Obispo and north of Avila Beach, vistas seem to ever unfoldin new directions.And even in the dry season, the sight of dark green oaks against tawny grasses is striking—a romantic vision of a quintessential California landscape.
A 2.6-mile loop trail launches you into these hilly grasslands patched with stately oaks. The singletrack starts and ends at the park’s southeastern extremity, near the 101 Freeway, and loops northwesterly. On a clockwise tour, you’ll cross a shaded arroyo called Dry Creek atjust under a mile, where oaks and sycamores grow dense.
Many extensions are possible. A path divergingon thenorthside of the loopadds another 2.3-mile loop. This system of trails even connects all the way to thelarger Irish Hills Natural Preservefarther north at the outskirts of San Luis Obispo.
Bring binoculars if bird-watching is your bag. Hawks soar overhead. Wild turkeys roam freely. Songbirds take to the wooded arroyo. An interpretive placard near trail’s end points out the location of an old gravel quarry, now filled with water and called Forbes Pond, which attracts red-winged blackbirds and the elusive black-crowned night heron.
Along the way, you’ll see original ranch structures—the land was owned by the Johnson family for 100 years. A pair of old barns are still used today for storage and agriculture.
The final return stretch can seem ugly as you approach the roaring 101 Freeway. But even here, a revitalization project is underway, with oak saplings planted and grafted in a lowland. May they grow fast.
WINE STOP: The charming Filipponi Ranch winery is just a quick drive from trail’s end. Run by multiple generations of the Filipponi family, it’s a place where the world slows down and pacifies once you enter the tasting room, which is built in the original ranch house. You’ll bask in the family’s hospitality and siptastyreds and whites, such as grenache and chardonnay, on a coveredpatio looking out ontogolden grass slopesandan oak-shadedcanyon.
From the northbound 101 Freeway just south of San Luis Obispo, exit Higuera St., turn left onto Clover Ridge Ln., then left onto Higuera, passing under the freeway. After a short distance, turn right onto Ontario Rd. to reach the dirt parking lot for Johnson Ranch Open Space. Dog-friendly!
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