Numerous yellow and gold flowers adorn the 8,000 rugged, unspoiled acres of Montana de Oro State Park in the late Spring and early Summer giving this magical place its name: Mountain of Gold. Mountain of Gold aka Montana de Oro State Park offers beautiful vistas, tree forests, open areas, beach access, minimal traffic, wildlife, wild flowers, cool temps and fog plus rugged California coastal scenery to make it one of the favorite trail riding locations in SLO County.
Load up your horses and take the Los Osos Valley Road exit off the 101 in San Luis Obispo and travel west towards the ocean. Montana de Oro State Park entrance is off Pecho Valley Road (LOVR tuns into Pecho Road). The main staging area – Hazard Canyon Parking Area – for a day horseback riding trip is off Pecho Valley Road on the ocean side where (see map below) Bloody Nose trail meets Dune trail kitty-corner from Camp Keep and the Park Residence. Overnight camping stays with horses are staged at the Hazard Horse Camp on the mountain side of Pecho Valley Road near the park entrance. Horse camping is primitive with no hook-ups but water is available for horses. Campers must clean up after themselves and their horses. Reservations are required and dogs are not allowed.
The first thing that campers and visitors alike notice about Montana de Oro are the Eucalyptus trees that fill most of the area when you first enter the park and then wind through the park towards the primary Equestrian staging area. These Eucalyptus trees are a remnant of California history when several “forward” thinking settlers in the 1870’s planted Eucalyptus trees (native to Australia) in many California coastal locations as timber prospects to meet the anticipated demand for building as people by the wagon-load were coming to California. Unfortunately for them, Eucalyptus turned out to be a poor source for timber . . . but the trees sure add beauty and mystique to this coastal land.
Riding through these trees is a highlight of an Equestrian’s visit to Montana de Oro. The trail with the most trees will be found on Bloody Nose trail coming to or from the Horse Camp (see map above) off Cable trail. Beach access is off the Cable trail which is accessible from the Horse Camp and from the northern part of the Dune Trail. Another beach access which is more treacherous with “horse stairs” is off Hazard Reef trail which is near the day staging area.
First-time and seasoned visitors to Montana de Oro can get the best of Montana de Oro State Park horseback riding by parking at the day staging area then riding south on Dune Trail which takes you along the bluffs. Pass along Spooner’s Cove over to the mountain side of the road and take Hazard Peak Trail (try this at a nice hand-gallop) back towards the staging area. Here you’ll get an unspoiled 360 degree view of the coastline and the mountains. Hazard Peak Trail connects with Heidra Trail which can take you back to the staging area or on to Bloody Nose Trail – where the Eucalyptus trees are – to the Horse Camp and then back over the road and on Dune Trail to return to the staging area.
Please note that some trails at Montana de Oro are shared use and you can come face-to-face with mountain bikers. To avoid surprise encounters, if you hear mountain bikers greet them with a loud greeting so that they might respond to the greeting and alert your horse to their presence. However even this tactic can fail as Jake, a SLO local, encountered recently at Montana de Oro. Jake tells his story, “We were on the Hazard Peak trail where it overlooks the road and were passed by a few bikers. My mare is still a bit green to odd things on the trail. She was doing well with no problems except some snorting and google-eyes at a few things this day. The trouble happened with an exceptionally polite biker who got completely off the trail for us. As we passed, he said, “hello”, which was just too much for my little mare to handle and she jumped straight into their air like a cat and came down a few feet away. Luckily, no one was hurt. It was pretty funny that the biker isn’t too scary unless he talks!”
Other notes for a great day:
• Dogs are not permitted on any of the trails in the park.
• Stay on designated trails at all times.
• You may camp overnight only in designated areas, with prior registration.
• Take water with you on any hike which lasts more then one hour. Be prepared to stay longer than you may have intended.
• Dress in layers as the climate changes in different locations
• Poison oak grows throughout the park.
You may obtain a trails map from the Visitors Center located in the old ranch house at the entrance to the campground at Spooner’s Cove.
To finish off a perfectly wonderful day, plan to stop at Sylvester’s Hamburgers in Los Osos for a great meal.