It’s no secret that the Central Coast is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery. What better place to view it than from a mountain top?
“Hiking doesn’t just provide awesome cardiovascular exercise,” kinesiology senior Cole Hughlett said. “It relieves harmful stress, making you healthier both mentally and physically.”
Many students hike Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis Obispo (more commonly known as Madonna Mountain) and Poly Canyon, but there are dozens of less-frequented trails close to campus just waiting to be explored.
Here are a few nearby trails that should serve to get your feet dirty.
El Chorro County Regional Park
More than 700 acres of open space rests about five miles northwest of Cal Poly’s campus. Home to Dairy Creek Golf Course, campgrounds and a botanical garden, the park also features miles of trails through shady oaks, sycamore glens and chaparral fields.
The main trail climbs up the hillside, past stone mortar bowls used by the Chumash Indians to grind acorns into meal, to a large outcropping known as “Eagle Rock.”
While not very high, the rock provides spectacular views of Cuesta College and the volcanic morros of Cerro Romaldo, Hollister Peak and Cerro Cabrillo in the distance.
Directions: Head north on Highway 1 toward Morro Bay. Turn right on Dairy Creek Road (across from Cuesta College) and follow it past the baseball diamond to a parking lot and locked gate.
San Luis Obispo Reservoir Canyon
Just north of Cal Poly, before the Cuesta Grade, is an undeveloped open space maintained by the City of San Luis Obispo. During the rainy season, the reservoir is actually a small pond fed by Reservoir Creek, which spills over at one end as a large waterfall, before finally merging with San Luis Creek a few miles later.
Behind this waterfall is a dripping-wet cave that leads directly underneath the reservoir. The leisurely creek-side trail follows Reservoir Creek from the pond as it meanders up through the forested canyon for about 3 miles, before fading into private property. Cascades and smaller waterfalls can be seen along the path during the rainy season.
Directions: Head north on Highway 101. Just outside of San Luis Obispo, but before the Cuesta Grade, turn right on Reservoir Canyon Road. Follow the road to a locked gate and small turnout.
Cuesta Ridge Road
Along the top of the Cuesta Grade lies a service road that extends both east and west from where the freeway passes the summit. The paved westbound road travels along the grade toward the Cuesta Ridge Botanical Gardens, which features large groves of cypress, manzanita and pine trees growing out of the greenish serpentine bedrock.
The dirt road to the east of the freeway leads to the Mount Lowe radio facility, and eventually Lopez Canyon a few miles beyond.
Both roads offer the most pristine panoramic vistas available anywhere in San Luis Obispo County, spanning from Los Padres National Forest and Atascadero in the north, to Morro Bay and Los Osos Valley in the west, to San Luis Obispo, the Five Cities area and the Pacific Ocean in the south.
Directions: Take Highway 101 north to the top of the Cuesta Grade. Turn left into the large parking lot to take the western road. Continue just past the summit and turn right into the turnout to take the eastern road.
San Luis Obispo Foothills
Southeast across Highway 101 from the Cal Poly campus is a range of foothills that resemble a smaller version of the Cuesta Grade just a few miles north. Practically looming over San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly, these hills offer an up-close and personal view of downtown and campus from a different vantage point than Bishop Peak or Madonna Mountain.
The steep trail travels up the side of the range facing San Luis Obispo to a red tower at the summit. Although mostly devoid of trees, wildflowers and yucca plants are plentiful along the trail. During the summer months, yucca plants bloom a decorative stalk of flowers that can reach several feet tall.
Directions: Take Johnson Avenue south toward the airport. Turn left on Lizzie Street (across from French Hospital) and then left into the adult school. The trail starts at the rear of the baseball field.
Shell Beach Bluffs Range
Just north of Shell Beach lies a small mountain range, which runs parallel to the coastline between Avila Valley and the upscale Shell Beach neighborhood of Sunset Palisades. This unique mountain-meets-water location allows for impressive views of the ocean, Shell Beach, Pirate’s Cove and Cave Landing below.
On a clear day, the Oceano Dunes become visible beyond Pismo Beach to the south. The main trail, which is steep at first, levels out along the top of the range from Sunset Palisades all the way to Avila Beach.
Directions: Head south on Highway 101 toward Shell Beach. Exit the freeway at Avila Beach Drive before coming to the ocean. Proceed straight to Shell Beach Road (parallel to the freeway) and continue a few yards to a small turnout at the foot of the range.