Rising up into the skyline of central San Luis Obispo, Bishop Peak remains a favorite for hiking amateurs and pros alike. There are three trails of varying difficulty to get to the top of Bishop, which start at Patricia Drive, Highland Drive and Foothill Boulevard. The trail that begins at Foothill is a steep summit, so be prepared for a calf workout if you opt for that route. The other trails, although moderate, still take approximately 45 minutes to reach the peak.
As with all trails, there is a huge variety of local wildlife and vegetation, so watch out for poison oak and other creatures among the sagebrush. Prepare for some light rock-climbing at the top (or relax on one of the two memorial benches) and soak in the view, preferably at sunrise or sunset.
Cerro San Luis Obispo
Recognizable for the white ‘M’ on its west side, Cerro San Luis Obispo provides an amazing trail for hikers and mountain bikers. Even though it is frequently wrongly assumed that the ‘M’ stands for Madonna, the name of the family who owns the land, the ‘M’ actually comes from Mission High School.
Cerro San Luis is located behind the Madonna Inn near downtown San Luis Obispo. There are several trails to the top, but the main trail begins at Marsh Street. This two-mile trail starts with grasses and light ground cover, taking hikers and bikers through some wooded areas before ultimately leading to a wide dirt path that continues to the peak. Although steep, the trail is popular because of the stunning views at the top of San Luis Obispo County. Be sure to bring a camera to capture photos of places ranging from the Cal Poly campus to Laguna Lake.
Montaña de Oro
Montaña de Oro has a little bit for everyone. The more than 8,000 acre state park contains secluded beaches, cliffs and hiking as well as equestrian and biking trails. The state park provides gorgeous scenery year round, but is particularly beautiful when the golden wildflowers bloom in the springtime (giving the park its name, translated from Spanish to ‘Mountain of Gold’).
Located six miles southwest of Morro Bay, Montaña de Oro is one of the largest state parks in California. Valencia Peak is the highest ridge in Montaña de Oro at 1,347 feet. The close proximity to the ocean means that the weather along these trails are variable, so dressing in layers is recommended. While you’re there, be sure to check out Spooners Cove, Montaña de Oro’s best-known beach location and spot for experienced surfers.
West of the Laguna Lake region lies the Irish Hills Natural Reserve. With approximately 10 trails running through Irish Hills and along the ridge, hikers have a variety to choose from before heading out. At the top of the ridge, hikers can view from Los Osos Valley to Morro Bay, as well as the Seven Sisters mountain range.
One of the main trailheads begins at Prefumo Canyon Road, which takes hikers on a climb 1.6 miles to the ridge top. The moderate difficulty level means that not only hikers are found on the trail, but also mountain bikers. There are many smaller trails that branch off from the main trailhead, so Irish Hills contains more than 8 miles of trails in total. While hiking, keep an eye out for the abandoned open mine alongside the trail.
Also known as High School Hill, Lookout Hill is one of the best trails for intense hiking. Although only 1,500 feet in elevation, the steep incline provides a consistently challenging workout for hikers. The trailhead is located off of Lizzie Street and Johnson Avenue. Be aware that the trailhead is slightly hidden, but the narrow path is well-defined once hikers begin the trail.
One feature distinguishing Lookout Hill from the other trails is the cacti patch at the base of the canyon. The trail is fenced to prevent hikers from getting injured by the cacti through this portion. At the summit, hikers can choose to hike toward the left to the orange lookout tower or veer to the right to see a custom-built throne. While steep, the trail doesn’t require professional knowledge of hiking, allowing hikers of all ages and skill levels to attempt the climb.
Cal Poly ‘P’
Located behind the South Mountain dorms (or red bricks) on Poly Mountain, the Cal Poly ‘P’ is a great 15-minute hike. Originally an ‘H’ for San Luis Obispo High School, in 1919 Cal Poly students changed the stone letter to a ‘P’ out of school pride. Students make the hike to relax or even paint the ‘P’ according to holidays (though you need to get approval from the San Luis Obispo Mustang Booster Club and the keepers of the ‘P’ before grabbing your paintbrushes). Take a break from classes and head up one of the two trails to get a panoramic view of the Cal Poly campus and what lays behind the hills.