On Monday afternoon at approximately 12:15pm, I, Connor Allen current sports reporter and self proclaimed outdoor activity aficionado, set out to conquer the Three Bridges Trail to see what all the buzz was about. The Three Bridges Oak Preserve was purchased by the Atascadero Land Preservation Society (ALPS) in 2012 with the help of some major funding coming in the form of a California River Parkways Grant. According to their website, supportalps.org, the trail is located approximately two miles West of the city’s center, bordered on the North by the Atascadero creek and on the South by chaparral and oak woodland.
Full disclosure, I didn’t start from the newly established trailhead. I parked off of Highway 41, just past the house with the dinosaur figures out front, and judging by the moderately full parking lot, I’d say I’m not the only one who did. Don’t let me be your model though, I was doing so on a work day. Had I hiked on a weekend I would have taken full advantage of the entire trail. However, if you do park across the street from the trail on Highway 41, make sure to be very careful when crossing. Turn off your music and take out your headphones when dashing across so you will be able to hear the humming of the engines and the whistle of the wind coming around the corner long before you will see the cars.
Once through the gate, you will see the trail is abundantly draped in mosses of different shades of greens and yellows. After only a couple paces in, the murmur of the highway grows faint and is replaced with the chatter of tiny woodland creatures. The tree branches on both sides of the path intertwine their limbs almost as if they are proud parents creating a tunnel for me to run through after a Saturday morning soccer victory. It has that classic, country “Atascadero feel” — you know it and I know it and it’s unmistakable.
Only 40 paces or so into the hike I came across my first, well, bridge I guess. It wasn’t really a bridge, just a large piece of plywood over a murky natural gutter. I was unable to find anyone that definitively knew what three bridges in the “Three Bridges Trail” stood for. Some say you will cross three bridges on the trail, some say it’s referencing the three bridges you will cross on the drive to Morro Bay, I don’t know but what I do know is there are 103 acres of beautiful oaks, bullet ridden with the thousands of holes punched by the woodpeckers and squirrels. If you do know the origin you can tell me but until then, the speculation endures.
I have also heard chatter that the Three Brides Trail will eventually connect with other trails in the county such as the Cerro Alto Trail via the Eagle Ranch development. This would be something in the distant future, but the idea of being able to hike from Atascadero to San Luis Obispo is exciting.
By the middle of June, most of the bright vibrant colors from the wildflowers have died out, but there is a certain serenity that comes with rolling hills of golden reeds blowing in whichever direction the wind takes them.
The trail is very well maintained and clearly marked. The brush has been cleared from the sides of the trail so that hikers aren’t constantly stepping over weeds jutting into the path or worrying that whatever green plant with three leaves just brushed up against them is going to leave them in an itchy nightmare. Almost the entire hike is covered in shade from the oak canopy, with just the perfect amount of uncovered vantage points to stop for a “view,” when you really just want to rest your legs. On a scale from one to ten, with the walk around Atascadero Lake being a one to hiking Bishop’s Peak being a ten, this hike is about a 4.2.
From where I started to the top of the hike took almost exactly 45 minutes, and that is walking at a leisurely pace and stopping to take a video of a family of turkeys I encountered along the way. The wildlife score on this hike is a perfect ten, but make sure to stay aware because not all wildlife is friendly. During the hike you will come across a couple different forks in the road — if you take the trail that appears to be leading upward every time, you’ll end up in the right spot. I ran into separate groups of three hikers and two mountain bikers during my trip and both expressed their love for the trail. The amount of love the community has for this trail is obvious and I think, local hiker and developer, Max Zappas really encapsulates what the trail is all about, and the point I was making with the “Atascadero feel” when he told me,
“I really like the trail, I love that it takes you through a large natural oak forest. Oak forests are something that is unique to California and particularly prevalent in this area and that’s why I think it’s so special because it really, kind of accentuates what’s naturally around here and makes it more accessible to the general public.”
The trail is great for families with children, groups with dogs, mountain biking enthusiasts, even a lunch meeting during the work day. I was never out of breath and reached my car with just a few drops of sweat running down my cheeks. I rate the Three Bridges Trail five stars out of five, and also two thumbs up.