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Los Osos Oaks State Reserve

Oak Trail

1 to 2 miles round trip.

Antiquarian California live oaks, estimated to be 600 to 800 years old, are the highlight of this state reserve in Los Osos Valley near San Luis Obispo. Two miles of trail meander through the old oaks which have, during their long life, contorted into some unusual shapes.

Botanists say the oak woodland is a culmination of thousands of years of plant succession that has transformed the area from sparsely vegetated sand dunes into a landscape of California live oaks. Though many of the oaks are quite large, some oaks growing on the crest of the dunes are dwarfed.

Chumash Indians gathered acorns from the grove. Shell fragments and bits of charcoal are evidence of their frequent encampments.

Meandering along the eastern boundary of the reserve is Los Osos Creek, lined with bay laurel, sycamore and even some cottonwood trees.

The oaks are full of bird life. Several species perch in the crown of the trees, others hunt bugs and grubs in the piles of leaves beneath the trees. The chaparral that makes up one-fourth of the reserve is home to quail and many more birds.

Those piles of sticks you see, some several feet high, are wood rat nests. Judging by all those nests, the rarely seen rodent may be the most common animal in the reserve.

Docent-led walks are sometimes scheduled on the weekends. While walking in the reserve, stay on the trail; poison oak is abundant.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101 on the southern outskirts of San Luis Obispo, exit on Los Osos Valley Road and travel eight miles to Los Osos Oaks State Reserve on the left side of the road.

The hike: The path crosses a bridge over a trickling creek, passes a plaque thanking, among others the California State Parks Foundation for preserving this place, then begins a clockwise loop through the reserve.  

The main path winds through the old oaks, wanders near Los Osos Creek, then leads to an overlook of a still pastoral part of Los Osos Valley. At a couple of trail junctions, you have the opportunity to shorten or extend your walk.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at