Panoramic views, family-friendly trails & more – here are some great ideas for hiking around San Luis Obispo
The panoramic views offered by San Luis Obispo trails are just one of the many reasons San Luis Obispo – better known as SLO by the locals – was recently named the happiest town in America.
Whether you stroll along paths that skirt the breathtaking Central Coast in Montana de Oro or join Cal Poly students in a hike to the top of Bishops peak – the vantage point from the trail will likely turn out to be among your favorites to go hiking around San Luis Obispo.
Bishops Peak is the highest of the Nine Sisters – a string of volcanic peaks that span the 12 miles from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo. The Trailhead for this 3.5-mile hike can be located on the left-hand side of the cul-de-sac at the top of Highland Drive. While Bishops Peak is a more strenuous climb than its sisters, the views are incomparable. You’ll share the trail with students and locals alike, due to its close proximity to Cal Poly University. The rocky trail winds towards the sky in a series of switchbacks – every turn affording a more impressive view than the last. When you reach the peak you’ll find all of SLO laid out before you in a stunning display from the Cuesta Grade to Morro Bay.
Johnson Ranch offers a loop that takes you through the wooded hills and grassy vistas of a historic 242-acre ranch. Wildlife is in abundance, as are the mountain bikers and trail runners you’ll share the hike with as it snakes throughout the hills of Johnson Ranch. The trailhead for this moderate 3.7-mile hike can be located right off 101 South by exiting at 198 for Higuera St. At the bend in the road, turn left into the parking area for Johnson Ranch. Irish Hills can be reached by parking on the street at the end of Madonna Road where a sign will offer multiple options for exploring this reserve.
Irish Hills were named as such by Irish Immigrants; the old schoolhouse that was once the center of the Irish Hills School District still stands near the trailhead. After a brief climb in Irish Hills, the trail begins to dip and curve, carrying you across footbridges and under oak tree canopies as it rises into a clearing, providing panoramic views of Bishop Peak, SLO, and Cerro San Luis.
Islay Peak is a smaller sister located on the southernmost tip of the Nine Sisters string. Parking at the end of Sweet Bay Lane and a 1.8-mile round trip hike will bring you to the peak where the wineries of Edna Valley will unfold beneath you, rolling in perfect symmetry all the way to Pismo, hemmed by the beautiful Santa Lucia Mountains.
Montana de Oro Bluff Trail is a wide path that skirts the cliffs of the Central Coast with stunning views that roll towards the horizon. Detours will lead you to vista benches, beach coves, and tide pools along this meandering trail. With minimal elevation gain, this hike is perfect for all ages, and parking is easy to find just past the Montaña de Oro Visitor Center.
Bob Jones Trail is a 5-mile round trip paved trail that takes you from SLO to the pristine coastal town of Avila Beach. Park your car in the lot on Ontario Road and walk or bike over a path that takes you along the San Luis Obispo Creek and through the Avila Golf Course; sprawling oaks provide enough shade for hot days. You’ll see jogging strollers, bikes and walkers making their way to the coast and back on this family-friendly trail throughout the year.
– Katie Marchetti
Hike – Length – Elevation – Gain
Bishops Peak – 3.5 miles – 950 feet
Islay Peak – 1.8-mile – 550 feet
Johnson Ranch – 3.7-mile – 200 feet
Irish Hills – 3 miles – 500 feet
Montana de Oro Bluff Trail – 3.4-mile – 100 feet
Bob Jones Trail – 5 miles – next to none (from Ontario road)