Tucked off the coast in San Luis Obispo County are old sand dunes dotted with coastal oaks. The 90 acres of the Los Osos Oaks State Nature Preserve is a haven for wildlife including five major plant communities and an abundance of birds.
Plant communities include coastal sage scrub, central coastal scrub, dune oak scrub, coast live oak forest and riparian, and live side by side entering into one another’s habitat. The 800-year-old coastal oaks are gnarled and dwarfed in the area, some only rising from 6-8 feet in height.
The area was once home to the Chumash Indians. “Osos” translates to bears from Spanish, and grizzly bears were in abundance to the Valley in the mid 1700’s. However, in the 1770’s, the bears were killed off by a groups sent by Monterey Mission settlers, who were facing starvation.
One of the trails leads through a Chumash “midden,” or trash site, where pieces of history can still be found today through fragments of shells and other archaeological bits. Remember, however, that none of the history or wildlife should be removed from the preserve.
The preserve became protected through efforts in the early 1970’s, when the Small Wilderness Area Preservation Foundation along with grants from Dart Industries, Inc. and the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund purchased the 90-acre area and turned it over to California State Parks.
There is a flat, unpaved trail system along approximately 1 ½ miles of trail, which is a bird watchers delight with an abundance of species that alters throughout the seasons. Los Osos Creek Trail, Chumash Trail, and Oak View Trail loop through the park offer easy hikes between ¾ and 1 1/2 miles in length.
From woodpeckers and flickers, to hummingbirds and towhees, and California valley quail – the diversity is as great as the plant communities. Here great horned owls, American kestrels and red-tail hawks will also be found, hunting for their prey among resident mammals including the dusky-footed wood rat, California pocket mouse, striped skunk and opossum. Gray fox¸ bobcat and coyote also inhabit the preserve. For those interested in plant life, the preserve is home to several species of lichen that can be found nowhere else.
Hikers beware – there is also an abundance of poison oak growing in the area – signage helps visitors recognize the plants.
Hikespeak.com recommends, “No matter how far you hike in Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve, make a point to include a stroll on the section of Chumash Loop Trail that passes through the center of the park. Here long gangly oak branches spread across the trail to creating interesting obstacles that enrapture you in an enchanting world.”
The preserve is open daily for nature walks and hikes, with access only allowed on foot. Some of the trails are wheelchair accessible. No pets are allowed in the park except for service animals. No smoking or fires are allowed. Docent-led hikes are offered through the Central Coast State Parks Association (CCSPA), generally once per month. This non-profit group’s purpose is, “Supporting and funding interpretive and educational programs that promote understanding and conservation of the natural and cultural resources of our local State Parks.”
Other areas supported by CCSPA include Estero Bluffs, Harmony Headlands, Montana de Oro, Morro Bay State Park, Morro Strand Beach and Pismo State Beach.
For more information on Los Osos Oaks State Nature Preserve, visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=597
For more information regarding CCSPA and the events it offers, visit www.centralcoastparks.org/