San Luis Obispo, ca
Distance: 3.3 miles (out and back)
Elevation Gain: 1,010 feet
Seasonality: Year round, best when green in February/March
Trailhead: Bishop Peak Trailhead on Highland Drive
Parking: Park on any non-red curb in the neighborhood on Highland Drive.
Facilities: None. No potable water on the trail.
Difficulty: The steep incline is doable for families if frequent breaks are taken.
If you're over on the Central Coast, Bishop Peak is a great short hike for the entire family. At the top you'll get some great views of the city of San Luis Obispo (SLO) and some of the other towering peaks in the area. This three mile roundtrip hike takes you up a towering volcanic plug that is part of a chain of volcanic mountains on the Central Coast called the "Nine Sisters" or "the Morros."
The Nine Sisters also include Cerro San Luis, Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Islay Hill (technically privately owned, but the city has an easement), Morro Rock (not hikeable, no rock climbing), Hollister Peak (privately owned, hiking not recommended), Cerro Romauldo (half privately owned and half owned by California National Guard, hiking not recommended), and Chumash Peak (privately owned, hiking not recommended). Bishop is the tallest of the Nine Sisters, sitting at 1,549 feet elevation.
Bishop Peak is a very popular hike and is San Luis Obispo's equivalent to our Pincushion Peak near Millerton. You will see many families, kids and trail runners, especially in the early mornings as they use this peak for training.
Trip Planner Details:
There are several trailheads that lead to the top of Bishop Peak. The recommended trailhead is the one off of Highland Drive where you park within the neighborhood. This is the most popular trailhead, so you may have some trouble finding close parking depending on the time you go. You can park on any curb that isn't marked red. This trailhead gives you the best experience with a more gradual incline and better views between the different terrains.
You can also take the "shortcut" trailhead off of Foothill Boulevard. But don't be fooled, this trailhead is only about two-tenths of a mile shorter and the trail is much steeper and more exposed to the sun. With this trailhead, you will have more access to parking in the dirt lot and alongside the road.
There are also two other trailheads farther north that will add some mileage to the hike if you want to make it a little longer. The trailhead off of Patricia Drive offers a bit more parking in that neighborhood and connects to the Bishop Peak Trail via the Felsman Loop. On the other end of the Felsman Loop you can park on Bridle Ridge Trail.
There is no potable water or restroom facilities at all on the hike, so be sure to pack enough water and use the restroom before you go. The trail is also dog friendly.
When You Do Your Research:
When you do a Google search on Google Maps, you will see three of the trailheads mentioned above, so don't be confused when you see all of those options. All are easy to navigate to, it all depends on what trail route you want to take.
There are also a lot of websites and reviews of this hike on the internet since this is a very popular hike. You also may come across something called the "Tri Tip Challenge" which is a strenuous endeavor that many SLO natives pride themselves on completing. The Tri Tip Challenge includes hiking Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis, and the Cal Poly "P" all in one day and celebrating with a tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill in Downtown SLO (the sister restaurant to our Dog House Grill in Fresno). It's a fun challenge for those who are physically fit enough and have about 5-6 hours of time to hike.
Tips From One Who Hiked It:
You know when you have reached the end of the hike, since you'll see a park bench at the top inscribed with "End of the Trail." However, you do have the opportunity to move up past this and do a little bit of rock scrambling to get to higher elevations of this hike.
These higher elevation are where you will see some of the more popular views of the city. Please note that it does provide additional risk climbing up to these higher points and it's not recommended if you are not physically fit, are already tired from the hike, or if you have children with you. One of the more popular points is the far south peak that requires you to climb through three series of rock piles to get to the flat rock on the south part of the peak.