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California’s Central Coast Just Opened 11 Miles of Trails in a New Preserve

By Maggie Fuller

Jan 28, 2020

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Trails in the new Pismo Preserve enjoy sweeping panoramics of the Pacific coast.

Photo by Kaila Dettman

Trails in the new Pismo Preserve enjoy sweeping panoramics of the Pacific coast.

The much-anticipated Pismo Preserve opened January 25, 2020, and includes oak woodlands, rolling hills, and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

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The wait is finally over for outdoor adventurers anticipating the opening of the Pismo Preserve in San Luis Obispo County. After six years of development, the 880-acre conservation area in the hills overlooking Pismo Beach—and its 11-mile network of trails—opened on Saturday, January 25. It gives hikers access to the preserve’s oak woodlands, rolling grasslands, and stunning Pacific Ocean panoramas.

Just over three hours north of Los Angeles, Pismo Beach has long been a popular stop for road-trippers headed up or down California’s Pacific Coast Highway. The area has also gained attention for the Avila Beach Wine Trail, which highlights the region’s rhône-style vintages. But until now, San Luis Obispo County has been overshadowed as an outdoor recreation destination by its neighbors, Santa Barbara and Big Sur.

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“The Pismo Preserve offers travelers a brand new incredible opportunity to explore a world-class open space on the Central Coast,” Kaila Dettman, executive director of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County told AFAR. “It offers a variety of different trail options, for the avid adventurer to the casual hiker, and someone could spend just a couple hours or a whole day enjoying this amazing landscape.”

The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County is responsible for the preserve. Since 1984, the organization has worked with landowners and government agencies to permanently conserve over 24,000 acres of land in the area. Most of the trails in the Pismo Preserve will be multi-use and open to hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Currently there are 11 miles of trail, but the Land Conservancy expects that the network will eventually extend to 14 miles, including a wheelchair-accessible trail. There are benches and picnic tables throughout, including one ADA-compliant picnic table at the trailhead, and bathrooms in the parking lot. And good news for dog lovers—canine friends are allowed here on a leash. (E-bikes, however, are not permitted in the preserve.) There is also good cell coverage on the majority of the property. 

As part of the Land Conservancy’s mission to protect and care for wildlands, farms, and ranches, about a third of Pismo Preserve’s acreage is off-limits to hikers. But nature enthusiasts can go online to the get a peek at the deer, foxes, mountain lions, and bobcats that live in the Oak Woodland Conservation Area home, thanks to a wildlife camera project run by the Cal Poly Biological Sciences Department.

You can find short, family-friendly trails in the preserve, as well as longer, more challenging treks.

The Pismo Preserve’s opening has been a long time coming. Six years ago, in August of 2014, the Land Conservancy succeeded in raising the $12 million needed to purchase the private ranch and save it from commercial development. Land Conservancy staff and a small army of volunteers then built most of the trails in 2016. But a few months later, just before the preserve’s projected opening date, archaeological surveys revealed a Northern Chumash cemetery near the proposed parking lot. Chumash tribes used these coastal terraces for thousands of years, reports the San Luis Obispo Tribune, but were denied access to this plot of land when it became private. Following the discovery, the Land Conservancy worked closely with the Northern Chumash on a major redesign of the preserve that would ensure the proper protection of the cultural site. The park that opened last weekend is the result of all that hard work. 

Access to the preserve is free, and it will be open daily from 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. from November through February and at 9:30 p.m. from March through October. The dirt trails are likely to be closed after heavy rains. The preserve entrance and 54-space parking lot are located right off exit 191B from Highway 101 in Pismo Beach. Just be sure to make that left turn at Albuquerque.

>>Next: France Has a New National Park—Only 3 Hours From Paris

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