Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse News

The roar of the traffic speeding along Highway 101 quickly faded as we rode up Ranch Road on the south end of the Pismo Preserve. This was my first ride on the Pismo Preserve, however my horse buddy Beverly is a docent and knows the trails. She invited me to join her and a friend to ride the Pismo Preserve. We were our own group of three taking advantage of the very first Equestrian Discovery Day on the Pismo Preserve organized by the Land Conservancy. A few other equestrians came to enjoy the day as well.

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse News

The horses were fresh, yet settled. They took to the trails easily. Soon we traversed onto a well-marked trail which like all the trails on the Pismo Preserve is engineered for multiuse. Our horses marched steadily upwards through long switchbacks engineered for a 3-5% grade climb. Our first photo-op came at the Lone Oak. Here we paused to enjoy the backdrop which plops down toward the Pismo Pier and beyond, sweeping to Point Sal, then finishing where the sky and the sea meld into one.

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse News

The Lone Oak on the Pismo Preserve

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse NewsThe Lone Oak is a lone outcrop yet begins the strata where oak tree clusters provide shade and frame views. We rode along enjoying the sweeping views of Pismo and the surrounding vicinity constantly to our right. Taking the trail in an easterly direction we ducked under oak tree clusters,  and gradually climbed to the top ridge where we faced a northern direction.

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse NewsWe could now see the view to the east – vineyards and ranches and homes – taking the eye north towards San Luis Obispo. The view is framed by the Santa Lucia mountain range which runs from Arroyo Grande through Edna Valley and San Luis Obispo.

Continuing on the trails and using the ranch road we dropped back down a bit on the western slope and traveled across going north. Here we enjoyed stunning views of Shell Beach and Avila Bay. The Pacific Ocean beckoned the eye out to the horizon. White plumes of whales spouting water, and the occasional whale breeching added to the stunning beauty of the scene. We marveled at the view surrounding us.

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse News

360 Degree Views and the Perfect Picnic Spot

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse News

We ended up on the top ridge line again and headed towards the Avila Lookout. One point above the lookout and along the ridge is open and high, providing a nearly 360-degree view of the entire South County. At the lookout point, empty picnic benches and well-made tie rails invited us to sit and enjoy the day and our friends. Several other riders joined us here and the base of conversation was simply how wonderful it was to be out on the Pismo Preserve.Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse News

Looking up we noticed hawks and eagles who seemed to effortlessly soar along the ridge line catching the up-drift off the ridge. Beverly, who is a bird fancier, noticed one bird with a very wide wing expanse; she declared it to be a California Condor!

The Ride Home

After our rest, we remounted and headed back along the ridge going south. Riding along the western slope, we made our way back to the trailer parking area. We experienced more gentle switchbacks in between oak tree clusters, which again framed ever-changing ocean views. Once out of the oak tree strata the view of Shell Beach and the 101 became much closer. My daughter was out with friends that day and they happened to travel on Hwy 101 as we made our way back to the trailers. When I got home she told me they saw us riding back on this western slope to the trailers. What timing!

What could be better than riding your trusty horse with your best horsey friends, surrounded by scenic beauty with an added bonus of seeing wildlife in the water and air enjoying their day?

Experience the Pismo Preserve on Horseback

Riding the SLO County Trails: The Pismo Preserve | SLO Horse NewsYou too can experience all the Pismo Preserve has to offer by taking advantage of Equestrian Discovery Days. You will need to sign up in advance as trailer rig parking space is limited. The Land Conservancy plans to offer an Equestrian Discovery Day once a month. Take a look at the Events calendar and get signed up for the next one here >. If you don’t see an Equestrian Discovery Day listed, send them an e-mail and request one.

Getting to the Pismo Preserve

The Pismo Preserve is located off Highway 101 near Shell Beach. Exit off Mattie Road when traveling north or take the Shell Beach Road exit when traveling south. Turn onto Mattie Road which parallels the 101 along the East side. Entrance to the Pismo Preserve is located at 849 Mattie Road at the south end. The Pismo Preserve, formerly a 900-acre private ranch, was purchased for public use through grants and personal donations to the Land Conservancy. Plans to have it fully available to the public are still in the works. In the meantime, Discovery Days are scheduled for hikers, bikers and horseback riders to enjoy the preserve at their own pace.

Notes for a Perfect Day

  • Your horse is fit enough to handle a steady climb. Our ride took us about four hours to complete.
  • There is one water trough available on the Preserve, but no water at the staging area (this may change with upgrades).
  • Porta-potties are at the staging area, but none on the trails.
  • Helmets are required and it is recommended to dress in layers.
  • Dogs are allowed on lease only.

Photo credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos

Get Going! Explore the wonder and beauty of the SLO County trails from the best place on earth, the back of a horse. To keep this info at your fingertips we have developed a FREE Hot Sheet that will direct you to these these stories. We’ll continue to add trail ride stories to our website. You can stay up-to-date by becoming a SLO Horse News herd member. Get your Riding the SLO County Trails Hot Sheet here >.


Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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