A rare hiking opportunity in heart of the Paso Robles wine country
Here’s something a little different for your hiking pleasure: a chance to hike on the grounds of a working vineyard nestled in the pastoral Adelaide Hills west of Paso Robles.
While there are literally hundreds of wineries dotting the landscape around the Paso Robles area in northern San Luis Obispo County, Opolo Vineyards is perhaps the only winery in the area that also features a signed network of short trails on its grounds. Opolo Vineyards is located along Vineyard Drive in the bucolic Adelaide Hills west of Paso Robles, a short drive from Highway 101. The winery features a tasting room, outdoor patio (with lunch available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), a three-room bed and breakfast inn, and three short hiking trails: the Hilltop, Inn, and Zinfandel Trails. The Hilltop and Inn Trails overlap for part of their length and can be combined to form a short, satisfying loop. The Zinfandel Trail is a separate loop that explores the vineyards to the west of the tasting room. All three trails can be completed in about an hour, leaving you with plenty of time afterward for wine tasting and a post-hike pizza at the tasting room.
Don’t expect the kind of pristine wilderness experience that you can find in the Central Coast’s larger parks and wilderness areas: this is a working vineyard and you’ll be walking along orderly rows of planted wine grapes for most of your journey. Nonetheless, this short trail network offers some truly inspiring views of the surrounding Adelaide Hills (particularly in the spring), and you’ll probably see a lot more wildlife than you were expecting on such a “civilized” hike. Mule deer are commonly seen along the trail, and there’s a flock of wild turkeys living in the riparian corridor along Summit Creek that you’re very likely to see (and hear).
California is world-famous for its wine-growing regions, and so it might come as a surprise that none of the numerous varieties of grapes used in winemaking are actually native to the state. European wine grapes were originally brought to the New World by the Franciscan friars who established a series of missions along the California coast in the late 18th Century, when most of present-day California was still part of Mexico, then a Spanish colony. Wine grape-growing in the Paso Robles area dates to about 1790, when the first plantings were made at the Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia, now located on private property on Santa Margarita Ranch, just outside the town of Santa Margarita. Early grape planting activity also occurred at Mission San Miguel, which was established in 1797.
During the Mission Era, the present-day city of Paso Robles did not exist, although a Rancho El Paso de Robles in the same area was established in 1828. The City of El Paso de Robles (which means ‘The Pass of the Oaks’ in Spanish), was incorporated in 1889, long after the secularization and subsequent decline of the missions. Small-scale wine production in the area dates to the 1870s. York Mountain Winery (established in 1882) is the oldest winery in the area that is still in business, although it is now operated as Epoch Wines. Wine production in the Paso Robles area began expanding dramatically in the late 1980s to early 1990s, and today there are over 180 established wineries in the area.
On December 22, 2003, the 6.5-magnitude San Simeon earthquake rattled the area, causing extensive damage in downtown Paso Robles and resulting in two fatalities. Mission San Miguel also suffered serious damage during the earthquake, and restoration efforts continue to this day.
Opolo Vineyards, established in the late 1990s by two businessmen from Camarillo, is a relative newcomer to the Paso Robles wine scene. The larger vineyard, a 200-acre parcel, is located east of Paso Robles. The smaller, 80-acre parcel on the West Side is where you’ll find the tasting room and the hiking trail network described below. Because the West Side property is relatively small, the trails are short and never venture too far from the tasting room. In fact, you’ll still be within sight of the trailhead for most of the way. Nonetheless, the hiking is pleasant, the views of the surrounding countryside are outstanding, and there’s more wildlife to see than you might expect.
Distance: 1.4 miles loop trip (Hilltop/Inn Trails), 1.2 miles loop trip (Zinfandel Trail)
Elevation gain/loss: +200’/-200′ (Hilltop/Inn Trails), +80’/-80’ (Zinfandel Trail)
Hiking time: About 30 minutes for each trail
Permits and fees: None required. Trails are only open to the public during business hours (10:00 AM – 5:30 PM Friday & Saturday, 10:00 AM -5:00 PM Sunday-Thursday, closed for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day).
Maps: A free trail brochure, available at the tasting room, is the only map you’ll need. The York Mountain 7.5’ USGS quadrangle is useful for locating some of the nearby peaks visible from the trail, although neither the winery nor any of the trails are depicted.
Best time to go: All of the trails at Opolo Vineyards are accessible year-round. Spring is probably the best season for a visit due to mild temperatures and abundant spring greenery. Summers are dry and very hot, although the trail is still pleasant in the morning. Winter brings cool (but not particularly cold) weather and frequent rains. Avoid the trail during rainstorms or within several days after a significant rainfall due to muddy conditions.
The quickest approach to Opolo Vineyards from Highway 101 in Paso Robles is to take the Highway 46 West exit (signed for Cambria and Hearst Castle) on the south end of town. Turn left onto Highway 46 West and drive 4.6 miles to Vineyard Drive, on your right. Continue 4.4 miles on Vineyard Drive, where you will reach the well-signed entrance to Opolo Vineyards. Turn right onto a long, paved driveway that leads to a parking area in front of the winery’s tasting room and outdoor patio. All three trails start from here.
If you’re coming from the north, a slower, but very scenic alternative route is to take the Highway 46 East exit (signed for Fresno and Bakersfield) on the north side of town. At the bottom of the ramp, turn right onto 24th Street. Your route passes through town, becoming Paso Robles Road (County Road G14) on the outskirts of the city. After 2.3 miles, bear left onto Adelaida Road. Follow this road for 9.1 miles to the north end of Vineyard Drive (across from the entrance to Halter Ranch Vineyard). Turn left onto Vineyard Drive and continue 4.6 miles to the entrance to Opolo Vineyards on your left.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: N35-35.498, W120-48.946. Elevation 1210’.
All three of the trails at Opolo Vineyards start near the front of the tasting room. After finding a place to park, your first stop should be at the tasting room, where you can pick up a free copy of a map and brochure for the trail network. The folks at the tasting room can also give you the latest information about the condition of the trails and any special events that might be going on at the winery. If it has rained recently, you’ll want to know if the trails have dried out yet, or are still a muddy mess. The Hilltop Picnic Area is occasionally used for wedding ceremonies, so you might want to avoid hiking up there if a wedding is scheduled during your visit.
For the Hilltop and Inn Trails, walk back down from in front of the tasting room to the gravel parking lot below and to your left, just across unseen Summit Creek. This gravel lot is used for overflow parking and also accesses The Inn at Opolo, a three-suite bed and breakfast, which you can see in front of you on a hillside overlooking the tasting room.
At the far side of the gravel lot, look for an elaborate wooden trail sign that identifies the start of both trails. The Hilltop and Inn Trails follow the same path here, climbing gradually up a wide gravel road. As you climb, stop occasionally and turn around to admire the increasingly scenic views out over the vineyards and the oak-studded Adelaide Hills that surround them. Also, be on the lookout for vehicle traffic along this road, which allows vineyard workers easy access to this part of the property. The Inn at Opolo also uses this road from time to time to take guests on a driving tour of the vineyards.
Shortly before reaching the crest of a ridge, you’ll come to another wooden sign that marks the junction of the Hilltop and Inn Trails. While the Hilltop Trail continues straight ahead on the gravel road you’ve been walking on, the Inn Trail branches off to the right, heading out into the vineyards themselves.
If you’re doing the recommended combination loop of both the Hilltop and Inn Trails, continue straight on the gravel road, which climbs to the top of the ridge and then curves left to end at a large, open gravel parking lot. At the far end of the parking lot, several picnic tables mark the location of the Hilltop Picnic Area. Although unshaded, the spectacular views to the west make this a very attractive place to take a break. Most of the Opolo property is visible from here, and beyond Vineyard Drive you can see numerous other vineyards and patches of oak woodlands in the rolling Adelaide Hills. Out of sight beyond the western horizon, the Pacific Ocean is only about seventeen miles away. Despite the close proximity to the ocean, the Adelaide Hills effectively block the cool, moist coastal air, creating a microclimate that is only slightly cooler and more humid than the hot, dry conditions found down in the Salinas River Valley and the area east of Paso Robles. You’ll notice that the area is greener than down along Highway 101, with actual forests of oak trees rather than scattered, grassy oak woodlands. This microclimate is also ideal for growing wine grapes, which is why the west side of Paso and the area along Vineyard Drive in particular has become so popular with winemakers.
When you’re done enjoying the sweeping views from the Hilltop Picnic Area, return back down the Hilltop Trail to the signed junction with the Inn Trail. Make a sharp left turn here and pick up the Inn Trail, which runs west along a fence line. Don’t be alarmed if it seems like there’s no trail here – the route of the Inn Trail simply follows an informal path between the fence on your left and the rows of grapevines on your right.
The Inn Trail climbs a short, but steep hill while running along the fence line, then descends to reach the back of the Inn at Opolo. Near a small outbuilding just behind the Inn, another wooden sign directs you to turn left onto a gravel driveway that passes around the rear of the Inn.
The trail continues downhill, curving right to follow along the edge of a lovely oak forest. A small flock of wild turkeys calls this forest home, and there’s a good chance you’ll see and/or hear them during your visit. The trail continues curving to the right, passing below the front of the Inn and soon reaching the gravel parking lot where your loop trip began. Continue uphill back to the tasting room to finish the hike.
Now that you’re back at the tasting room, it might be tempting to head in and enjoy some wine tasting. However, there’s still one more trail that you’ll want to hike, and it’s short enough that it won’t delay your wine tasting plans for too long. The 1.2 mile Zinfandel Trail forms another loop, this time around the western part of the vineyard. The trail starts at the edge of another gravel parking lot, this one on the right side of the tasting room (as you’re facing the entrance). Again, there is no formally maintained trail, but there are signs along the way to keep you on the correct route. Find the start of the Zinfandel Trail at another wooden sign on the edge of the gravel parking lot.
Hike uphill on a wide path that runs between the vineyard on your left and a fence on your right. The fence keeps you from wandering down into the riparian corridor that runs along Summit Creek, but it’s probably just as well due to the abundant poison oak found in this area. At the crest of a small hill, the “trail” turns sharply left to follow along another fence line. Follow the fence line west, enjoying wide views of the vineyards and the surrounding countryside. Owl boxes, mounted on long poles, have been placed here to provide nests for the local owl population.
The route follows an undulating course along the fence line, gradually climbing and descending before reaching a sign for the Zinfandel Trail under a large oak tree. While it appears that the trail continues west toward Vineyard Drive, you will actually want to turn left to walk down a wide, grassy pathway between the rows of grapevines.
As you’re descending the grassy pathway toward the paved entrance driveway that leads into Opolo Vineyards from Vineyard Drive, look for a small ‘picnic table’ sign about halfway down. The sign directs you on a brief detour to your left over to a picnic table. Located under a huge, ancient oak tree, the Zinfandel Picnic Area has a single picnic table. Although it’s relatively close to the driveway, this spot is nonetheless very secluded and quiet. If no one else is using it at the time, it makes a perfect spot for a quick lunch or rest break.
Returning to the main route, continue down to a crossing of the entrance driveway. On the other side of the road, turn right and walk along the driveway back out to the Opolo Vineyards entrance gate. Here, turn left and pick up a path near the fence line, walking south. The route here runs parallel and quite close to Vineyard Drive, so it’s a little noisier than what you’ve experienced so far.
As you’re walking along this part of the trail, look for the intriguing Willow Creek Mennonite Cemetery on the opposite side of Vineyard Drive. Dating back to 1911, the cemetery still serves the Mennonite community in the Paso Robles area. At the end of the open field you’ve been walking through, the route makes a sharp left turn near the property boundary. Staying near the trees on your right, the route gradually climbs uphill along the edge of the Summit Creek riparian corridor. Mule deer frequent this area, and you have a good chance of seeing them here. The route eventually climbs up and curves left to intersect the winery’s paved entrance driveway again. Cross the road and turn right, continuing along the left side of the driveway. You’ll soon reach the tasting room and your vehicle. Now it’s time to enjoy a well-earned glass of wine!
- There is ample parking near the tasting room, including a number of paved parking spots and two gravel parking lots. Opolo Vineyards is a popular stop for bus and limousine tours on the weekends, but most visitors head straight to the tasting room. You’ll usually have the trails all to yourself.
- The trails at Opolo are very well suited for small children due to their short length and easy grade. Be sure children (and adults!) stay on the trail.
- Potential hazards include gopher holes, rattlesnakes (!) and poison oak. While you’re unlikely to encounter a rattlesnake, there is a lot of poison oak in the riparian corridor along Summit Creek. It’s easily avoided by staying on the main trail.
- Wear sturdy footwear that’s appropriate for hiking. The Inn and Zinfandel Trails in particular have some rough stretches where they run through the vineyards, so you’ll want to wear trail-running shoes or lightweight hiking boots at a minimum.
- Be sure to pick up a copy of the trail map at the tasting room before starting your hike. While you really can’t get lost and you’ll rarely be out of sight of the trailhead, there are a few confusing junctions where you might miss a turn.
Also in the Area
Looking for other hiking opportunities while you’re in the area? Unfortunately, you won’t find anything very close to Opolo Vineyards. That’s kind of a shame, since the Vineyard Drive area is really quite beautiful. For better or worse, almost all of the area is private property, much of it committed to wine making, farming, and ranching. If you’re staying in the area for a while, there are several trails available on public land that aren’t too far away. The closest is the Salinas River Parkway, located back in downtown Paso Robles. The parkway is a multi-use path suitable for hiking or biking. It’s mostly paved, but there are some sections that are dirt. The Salinas River Parkway is now also a designated section of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. It’s about 12 miles and 20 minutes’ driving time from Opolo.
Farther afield, but still within a relatively short drive is the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, located on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria. This short, but lovely trail near the ocean seems a world away from Opolo due to the differences in microclimates, but it’s only 26 miles and about 35 minutes’ driving time away. There are other trails on Fiscalini Ranch if you have extra time.
Last but not least, Lake Nacimiento, operated by Monterey County Parks, offers a few hiking trails in addition to a plethora of camping and water sports activities. The 4.6-mile Shoreline Trail and the 1.5-mile Oak Knoll and Quail’s Roost Trail provide excellent views of the lake and are lightly used. Note that as of this writing (September 2014) the lake level is extremely low due to the ongoing drought. Lake Nacimiento is 22 miles and 45 minutes’ driving time from Opolo.
Car-camping opportunities are likewise very limited in this area. Although there are a couple of RV resorts in Paso Robles, the nearest place to car-camp is at Lake Nacimiento. If you’d prefer to camp closer to the ocean, I highly recommend the San Simeon Creek Campground at Hearst San Simeon State Park, just north of Cambria. It’s 30 miles and 40 minutes’ driving time from Opolo.
If you’d prefer to have a solid roof over your head and enjoy a little more luxury, The Inn at Opolo, a three-suite bed and breakfast, is located right on the grounds of Opolo Vineyards. While it’s quite pricey, the rates are comparable to most of the other winery-sponsored B&Bs in the area. Don’t need a remote-controlled fireplace to make your stay complete? Not to worry — there are dozens of other hotels to choose from back in Paso Robles. Check Trip Advisor or Yelp to find one that best matches your needs. Be aware that many of the more popular hotels are booked solid on the weekends, and may be completely sold out during any of the city’s numerous wine-themed festivals. The Harvest Wine Weekend (usually in mid-October), the Zinfandel Festival (mid-March), and the Paso Robles Wine Festival (mid-May) are the busiest times of the year, so plan ahead!
For a post-hike meal, you can’t beat the convenience of having food and drink available right at the trailhead. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Opolo offers their Pairings on the Patio, where you’ll have a choice of either one of several varieties of wood-fired pizza, or cevapi, a Croatian sausage. Meals are paired with a glass of Opolo wine, of course. For a full-course meal, head back into town. For a town of only 30,000 people, Paso Robles has an incredible variety of restaurants and cuisines from which to choose. Everything from simple, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants to elegant five-star dining is available.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to go hiking at a winery without stopping by the tasting room to sample Opolo’s selection of wines. Opolo offers a broad variety of estate-grown red and white wines. Their zinfandel, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon selections are made from grapes grown on the vineyard you’ve just been hiking on, as these grapes do best in the west side microclimate. Opolo currently charges a $5.00 tasting fee, but you’ll get to taste a lot of different wines for this price. Also, the tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase.
To gain a better understanding of the region’s early history, be sure to include Mission San Miguel on your itinerary while you’re in the area. Nestled in the tiny town of San Miguel just north of Paso Robles, it has the distinction of being the only mission in the United States that still retains its original fresco paintings. Although restoration efforts to repair the damage from the 2003 San Simeon earthquake have yet to be completed, most parts of the mission have re-opened to the public. The mission is 20 miles and 30 minutes’ driving time from Opolo Vineyards.
Another highly recommended special attraction while you’re in the Paso Robles area is River Oaks Hot Springs & Spa, nestled out of the way in a quiet residential neighborhood on the northeast side of town. River Oaks features a complete set of spa services, including private outdoor tubs (fed by natural hot springs on the property) that feature sublime views out over the vineyards adjacent to the spa. Although you’re unlikely to be sore after hiking the trails at Opolo, soaking in the tubs is the perfect way to end a full day of hiking and wine tasting. River Oaks is 15 miles and about 25 minutes’ driving time from Opolo Vineyards. Be sure to call and reserve a tub ahead of time, as they can get very busy on the weekends.
For more information about Opolo Vineyards and their network of trails, contact the winery directly:
7110 Vineyard Drive
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 238-9593
Fax: (805) 238-9594
While there aren’t any published guidebooks that cover the trails at Opolo, The California Directory of Fine Wineries: Central Coast: Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles is an excellent coffee table-style book that includes a chapter about Opolo Vineyards and several other notable wineries in the Paso Robles area.
For general information about visiting the Paso Robles region and its many wineries, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance website is your best one-stop source of information. It includes a calendar of local events and a directory of all of the region’s participating wineries, with links to each winery’s website. This is one site you’ll want to bookmark and refer to often when planning your visit to Paso Robles.
For more photos of this hike, see the complete set on Flickr.