Captain Juan Bautista de Anza says, “¡Vayan subiendo!” (Let’s go everybody!). He was definitely one up for an adventure. You can experience part of his adventure on horseback by taking a long ride through history hitting the Juan Bautista de Anza trail along the Salinas riverbed in Atascadero.
It’s a great place to ride on a cooler day, since the summer sun can heat up the sand. However, it can be a pleasant ride even on a warmer day as there are patches of shade and most likely water in the riverbed. Well, let’s go!
A Long Ride Through History in the Salinas Riverbed
The Salinas riverbed has been a popular SLO County riding place for years. Starting at the De Anza Estates Equestrian Arena (aka the Home Depot Arena) and heading south, one can meander through the riverbed for about 10 miles one way to the south. Riding the riverbed takes one along parts of the Juan Bautista de Anza historical trail, which was traveled by expeditions making their way up to San Francisco back in the years of 1774-1776, just before and as the Revolutionary War was beginning to create our United States of America on the East Coast.
Juan Bautista de Anza Expeditions
During the years of 1774 -1776 many Spanish settlers were making their way up the California coast from Mexico. Juan Bautista de Anza led one of these expeditions and is noted for establishing the San Francisco Mission and Presidio.
California at this time was mostly wilderness with only a handful of missions (San Luis Obispo est. 1772) to note as landmarks one might hit along the way. Over 200 settlers made their way up the coast in one of the expeditions. This group is known to have established the San Francisco Mission which was finalized in 1776.
One mission father noted in his journal that woodpeckers hid acorns in the large Oak trees situated along the Salinas riverbed. One of the locations he noted is now located near the Wranglerette Arena off Aragon Road in Atascadero. The arena is close to another trail head marker of the Juan Bautista de Anza Historical trail.
Riding South from the De Anza Estates Equestrian (Home Depot) Arena
A long ride through history traveling south from the De Anza Estates Equestrian Arena (Home Depot Arena) explores the part of the Juan Bautista de Anza trail noted in Father Font’s notebook. All these years later, you can still find acorns housed in woodpecker holes in the oak trees.
One can ride for about 10 miles to the south one direction. Most of the ride is through the sandy riverbed so know that deep sand and water crossings will be part of the experience. Motorcycles are NOT permitted, however, they can still be found in the riverbed. Watch for gravel trucks crossing at Halcyon Road.
The route will end near Rancho de Rio which is off Santa Clara Road in Atascadero. Here you will find a private bridge and the river closed off. For the return trip you will backtrack riding through the riverbed back to your staging area. If you go out and back that is about 20 miles! For a shorter ride you can turn around at Halcyon Road or at any point along the riverbed.
How Does One Get to the Staging Area?
Staging Area for a Long Ride Through History
Park your rig at the De Anza Estates Equestrian Arena (a.k.a. The Home Depot Arena) in Atascadero.
Driving Directions to the De Anza Estates Equestrian Arena:
Take the 101 to San Ramon Exit from the North, turn left onto El Camino Real or El Camino Real Exit from the South and go straight to N Ferrocarril Road and turn right. Keep going through the residential area and you will soon see the arena on your left.
Notes for a Perfect Day
- Keep in mind the heat will be intensified off the sand on a hot day.
- The trail is mostly flat, but parts are in deep sand. Side trails not in deep sand can be found.
- There will be water crossings.
- Due to the seasonal shifting pattern of water in the riverbed, the route through it will change.
- This is a good option for a group ride as there is plenty of room.
- Pack a lunch or a snack and drinking water if you are riding the approximately 10 miles distance one way.
- River crossing water levels will increase in the winter months.
- The trail closes at sunset.
A big thank you to Karen Gleason for providing the cover photo and some of the info for this ride.
All other photos: Sharon Jantzen Photos
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