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Great Short Hikes in North San Luis Obispo County: Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero

Barb loves living in San Luis Obispo County, California and wants to share its beauty with those who can't see it in person.

This is just one part of the Salinas River Trail that is shaded.

This is just one part of the Salinas River Trail that is shaded.

Stretch Your Legs on Road Trips

As one who often used to travel with children, I was always looking for convenient, educational, and interesting places where we could all stretch our legs and either find somewhere to eat or picnic tables for lunches we had brought with us nearby. Usually, we didn't have a lot of time to look around before moving on. We wanted to spend our time actually seeing or doing something fun in an hour or two not far from the freeway we were traveling on. There are many such places in my area of North San Luis Obispo County where one can take a walk of two miles or less within five minutes of the 101 freeway, and also find food not far away, or picnic tables if you have food with you. These are three of my favorite walks—on each in Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero.

The Salinas River Walk in Paso Robles

One of my favorite walks is the Salinas River Trail. On a late September day one year, I decided to enter Larry Moore Park at the very end of Riverbank Street in the Riverbank Tract in Paso Robles, California. I mistakenly referred to this as Summercreek instead of Riverbank in the video—must have been a senior moment. In this first video, you can join me in the first leg of this walk. I will point out some of what we are seeing and what you can expect. This segment ends at the end of the first footbridge over a creek that we come to on this trail. Just before we get there, I was lucky enough to get a shot of a cottontail bunny I passed and we will see him bounding away when he sees me.

The park itself is sandwiched between the Riverbank housing tract and the Salinas River. Most of the in-between part is a Savannah grassland habitat, flat, with native plants. Signs are posted in various places throughout the park so you will know what plants and animals you might be seeing and which habitats are represented. There s also an irrigated lawn, basketball court, playground, and picnic area in the center of the part. Restrooms are also available.

At the beginning of the first video, we take the trail that begins on the side of the park right next to the river, which is behind the brush you see. As this trail continues, it gets farther from the houses and hugs the river. At various points on this trail, you have access to paths that will lead you right down to the river (or dry riverbed.) If you continue on this trail, without any right turns back toward the tract, it will dead-end into another trail that came from the first entrance to the park, described below. Turning left at this dead-end will take you onto the part of the trail that goes under the bridge and beyond. The video below takes this trail until it comes to the access to the bridge itself where you can get onto Niblick Road and grab something to eat at Wendy's or the China Gourmet restaurant on the side of the Albertson's Center nearest the trail. Then you can go back to the trail and continue on for a few more minutes until it ends and you can make the return trip.

There are several entrances to this trail. If you are driving west on Riverbank from South River road, you will come to the first entrance right before Riverbank curves to the left. That is where I normally enter the park. One interesting thing about this trail is that it begins in the Riverbank housing tract and after it leaves the main part of Larry Moore Park, as it continues on, the left side of the trail is wild and the right side is adjacent to shopping centers, with some greenery in between. So you are never very far from civilization. That first trail leads straight to the main trailhead that goes past the Kohl's Department Store and leads to and under the Niblick Bridge, and then past the Albertson's shopping center, finally ending before some apartment buildings. The other side of the trail is the river side, which has many places to access the river, which has water generally only in the winter and early spring after the rains. The entrance we used in the first video dead ends into the trail one takes from the first Riverbank entrance I've just described.

The Oak View Lane walk begins behind this building and to the right, past the winery in back.

The Oak View Lane walk begins behind this building and to the right, past the winery in back.

Oak View Lane Walk in Templeton

This is a good walk to take if you are driving along Highway 46 West between Cambria and the 101 Freeway. It begins in the parking area of the Donati Family Winery and Tasting Room, under the trees as you enter from Vineyard Drive. This is a rarely-traveled back dirt road called Oak View Road, which begins behind the winery and ends a mile later on Vineyard Drive. It is woodsy and mostly shaded. Because it's a dirt road, it's best for walking during dry seasons of the year. I often take this road at dusk, and I often see deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife as I walk.

The picture of the Donati Family Vineyard is to let you know what to look for at the corner of Highway 46 West and Vineyard Drive. I am taking the picture from the parking area under the trees, opposite the one you see here, where the walk begins behind the winery. You can't miss it. The photo below shows you the entrance, and the video below that will show you some of the highlights of the walk, which is two miles, mostly level with slight slopes. It was dusk when I took the video because we were in the midst of a heatwave and it was cooler as the sun was going down.


This is the beginning of Oak View Lane, which begins behind the Donati Family Winery

This is the beginning of Oak View Lane, which begins behind the Donati Family Winery

The Walk Around Atascadero Lake

If you will be in North San Luis Obispo County for more than a day, you could actually spend a whole day in and around the Atascadero Lake Park. It is located at 9305 Pismo Ave., Atascadero. From the 101 Freeway, you would take Highway 41exit and go south on 41, and then you would turn left on Pismo. This will lead you to the parking area.

Although the walk around the lake, approximately two miles and level, is the main reason for my directing you to the park, there is a large picnic area, a great playground, and, in the summer, paddle boats and other rides available. Although waterfowl abound, you are not supposed to feed the ducks and geese. And although the park has restrooms and drinking fountains, I had a hard time getting water out of the drinking fountains, so I suggest you bring your own water. If you go to the website linked to above, you will notice there is also a zoo adjacent to the park, so this is a great place to spend one day of your vacation if you have children along. Adjacent to the Park on the other side is our Faces of Freedom Veterans' Memorial, another attraction you might want to see before you leave. You can leave your car in the same parking lot to see and do everything.

If you get hungry, there is a McDonald's on 6300 Morro Rd (41)not too far from the park, or you can take 41 back to El Camino Real, just past 101, and go right on El Camino Real. You will see several places to eat as you travel south.

In the video below are some of the highlights of my walk around Atascadero Lake on Memorial Day, 2010. One of the things I love about this walk is the diversity of birds one sees. There is very little narration, but you will hear the birds and an occasional passer-by. The lake is bordered on one side by a residential street and some parking areas on the lake side of the street, so these are often somewhat noisy if people are parked in their cars with radios on. Most of the walk is pretty quiet, which I appreciate because I like to hear the nature sounds. In the middle of the south end of the lake is an island where you will see many of the waterfowl hanging out. You will see some of that in the video.

Since our recent three-year drought, the Atascadero Lake has been bone dry for months at a time, but it now has some water again. It is nowhere near up to the level it used to be, but the ducks, geese, and other water birds are coming back now.

This photo was taken on March 8, 2015 after some water has returned to the lake. All the grassy areas used to be underwater, so you can see the lake is still suffering, but at least birds are returning.

This photo was taken on March 8, 2015 after some water has returned to the lake. All the grassy areas used to be underwater, so you can see the lake is still suffering, but at least birds are returning.

There's lots to look at when you stop to see Jack Creek Farms

There's lots to look at when you stop to see Jack Creek Farms

Goat peeking out of fence at Jack Creek Farms

Goat peeking out of fence at Jack Creek Farms

Ready to Put on Your Walking Shoes?

I hope I've convinced you that some of these places in North San Luis Obispo County are worth the time to make a pit stop—with or without children. These are just some of the walks.

Within five minutes to the west of the Oak View Road Walk on Highway 46 West, you will find Jack Creek Farms, a small working family farm where one can see live farm animals, buy a delicious snack at the farm store, and pick up fresh produce in season. During some seasons you can even pick your own apples or tomatoes. You will see several friendly cats as you walk around the farm, as well. In September there is sometimes a threshing bee, and they also have a corn maze in October for the children. Check the Jack Creek Farms website for special events.

Come visit us in the North County Wine Country. You won't be sorry.

Which walk looks most interesting to you?