“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
For some people, being alone in undisturbed nature, enjoying the peace and quiet and the sights of lush and varied vegetation, playful wildlife and beautiful vistas is not only highly enjoyable but is essential for a happy and healthy mind. I happen to be one of those people and I feel very lucky to live in Atascadero where we have several huge, undeveloped forest areas inside the city limits.
The open areas along the banks of the Salinas River and the path around Atascadero Lake both receive honorable mentions as two of my favorite places to hike and enjoy nature in Atascadero but there are three other areas that I like even better and many people don’t even realize they exist. At the risk of destroying the peace, quiet and isolation I enjoy at these three local destinations (you can’t keep a good thing secret for long anyhow), I’d like to let our Colony Magazine readers in on the secret and share some of my knowledge about Stadium Park/Pine Mountain, the Three Bridges Oak Preserve and the Jim Green Trail:
THE JIM GREEN TRAIL
An easier hike than the first two on my list, the Jim Green Trail doesn’t feature the sweeping vistas and grand views I previously mentioned but it does have charms of its own. The 1.6-mile loop trail is easy enough for even the most inexperienced hikers. After one small initial climb up a small hill, the trail levels off and takes visitors for a peaceful stroll through oak forest and cliffs overlooking the greens at Chalk Mountain Golf Course. Also visible to the east are a series of large settling ponds operated by the Atascadero Mutual Water Company, adding the silver sheen of water on the horizon.
To find the Jim Green Trail, head east on Curbaril Avenue from El Camino Real. Just past the railroad tracks, take a right onto Cortez Avenue and continue a few hundred feet until the street deadends at a dirt parking lot. You’ll walk along a dirt trail next to a fence and the railroad tracks for another few hundred feet before reaching the trail proper.
The Jim Green Trail might have slightly more traffic than the other two trails on my list but nearly everybody I encounter on my hikes there has a smile on their face and greets me warmly. Can’t beat that A-town friendliness.
Due to the lack of major elevation changes, the Jim Green Trail is my favorite local trail for morning jogs and it also seems to be a popular destination for those on horseback or mountain bikes.
STADIUM PARK/PINE MOUNTAIN
I’m surprised that more people don’t know about this gem of a park located right in the center of the city. You can find the trailhead just off of Capistrano Avenue, right up the block from the Atascadero Library.
After passing through the front gates and beneath the Highway 41/Mercedes Avenue bridge, you’ll have the option of staying right and continuing on a flat, level path to the center of Stadium Park, an open grassy meadow surrounded by trees and hills, or heading up a system of switchback trails on the left that will eventually take you to the top of Pine Mountain.
One of the best things about Stadium Park is that there are multiple pathways all around the stadium bowl, winding up to the top of Pine Mountain from three different directions. There are even unofficial trails that lead to the cemetery on the other side of Pine Mountain and the completely unimproved, wilderness area on the mountain’s southeast side. The multiple trails, along with the park’s rugged landscape add to a great sense of adventure for those who like to explore and the view from the top is stunning. On a clear day, you can see Paso Robles in the North and the Cuesta Grade in the south all from the same spot and the normally hulking monolith of Atascadero City Hall looks tiny down below.
The hike up to the top is not very long at just over a half-mile but is steep enough in parts to leave those of us who are not in the greatest shape making at least one or two pit stops to catch our breath.
THREE BRIDGES OAK PRESERVE
The Three Bridges Oak Preserve, named for the nearby three bridges over creeks on Highway 41 west just past San Gabriel Road. Many locals will be familiar with the large dirt area on the right side of the highway just past the third bridge that serves as a de facto parking lot for those using the unofficial entrance to Three Bridges, a green maintenance access gate on the left side of the highway but most are probably less familiar with the actual entrance to the park. To find the official trailhead, turn left on San Gabriel Road from Highway 41 and then turn left onto Monita Road. Bear right onto Sierra Vista Road and then immediately take another left onto Andrita Road, which turns into Casanova Avenue. After winding down the hill on a series of switchbacks, Casanova Avenue will become Carmelita Avenue, which deadends at the trailhead parking lot for Three Bridges.
After passing beneath the Highway 41 bridge and crossing Atascadero Creek, visitors are greeted with an informational kiosk illustrating the wildlife found in the park. Developed by members of the Atascadero Land Preservation Society, the Three Bridges trail abounds with informational signs every few hundred feet, providing details on the huge variety of plants and animals that can be seen from the trail.
The Three Bridges trail is a two-part hike. Beginning with the lower loop, the trail meanders through thick stands of oaks and moss-covered boulders, switching back and forth up a series of hills. The climb is gentle and moderate and should be suitable even for beginning hikers.
At the top of the lower loop, you have the option of looping back to the trailhead or taking the spur up to the top of the hill. The trail becomes a bit more difficult from there but is also more rewarding as the forest clears into chaparral and the awe-inspiring views to the east appear.
After climbing yet another series of switchbacks, hikers will pass a gate warning those on bicycles and horses that the uppermost part of the trail past the gate is only suitable for those on foot. Past the gate, the tree cover returns again and the climb resumes, ending atop a peak at a pile of boulders and an informational sign featuring a panoramic photo of the view that points out all of the landmarks that are visible below, including Atascadero Lake, City Hall and even the Paso Robles Downtown City Park. The climb is a bit more arduous than Pine Mountain at a total distance of three miles, but the amazing views make it worth every step.
It should be noted that the Three Bridges trail is mostly closed this time of year with rain runoff making Atascadero Creek dangerous to cross.