Cal Poly "P"
San Luis Obispo, ca
Cal Poly "P"
Distance: 4.3 miles (loop)
Elevation Gain: 1,037 feet
Seasonality: Year round, best when green in February/March
Trailhead: Lemon Grove Trailhead of Marsh Street (although there are multiple options to start from.
Parking: Park in the Marsh Street Parking lot off Fernandez Road (approximately 40 parking spots)
Facilities: None. No potable water on the trail.
Difficulty: The steep incline is doable for families if frequent breaks are taken. The trail also can be shortened or lengthened according to your preference.
Cerro San Luis is a great hiking option for the entire family because you can completely customize this hike to fit the needs of your group. There are three main trails you can explore - the Lemon Grove Loop trail, the Rock Garden trail, the Perimeter trail, and the "M" trail. There are also several destinations to explore including the concrete "M", the cross (in spring), the Christmas Tree (in December), and the various lookout points marked with wooden benches to soak in the views of the city. At the summit, you'll get a 360 degree view of the city of San Luis Obispo (SLO) and some of the other towering peaks in the area.
From the Lemon Grove Loop trail, you can merge onto the "M" trail that takes you to the concrete formed letter "M" representing the Mission College Preparatory High School that is in downtown San Luis beneath the peak. Similar to the Cal Poly "P", schools in the area have created these markers as a point of school pride. At the summit, you can also see where an illuminated cross is placed every year on Good Friday and the Christmas Tree made of lights that appears in December. The cross remains on the summit until the Monday after Easter Sunday, a tradition set in 1985 by local church fellowships for an Easter sunrise service, but now the Madonna Inn family and maintenance team light the cross each night. The Christmas Tree is made from strings of lights that anchor to the ground from the post and can be seen in December.
Cerro San Luis is part of a chain of volcanic mountains on the Central Coast called the "Nine Sisters" or "the Morros." The Nine Sisters also include Bishop Peak, 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).
You will see many families and trail runners on these trails. You will also see mountain bikers, especially if you're hiking on the north side of the mountain, so keep an ear out for the ringing of their bells to announce their presence. There are loaner bells that mountain bikers can borrow at the base of the mountain on the north side.
Trip Planner Details:
There are several trailheads that lead to the top of Cerro San Luis. The recommended trailhead is the Lemon Grove Loop trailhead off of Fernandez Lane where you park in the small lot. This is a popular trailhead, so you may have some trouble finding close parking depending on the time you go.
The other prominent trailhead is located off Hill Street where you can park and walk along Carriage Road to join the Lemon Grove Loop trail. There is a trailhead marker with an information board at the start of the hike. It's also the closest trailhead to the summit, so it can make for a shorter hike if desired.
You can also choose to park along the streets of the neighborhoods on Serrano Heights Drive, South Tassajara Drive, and Luneta Drive, although parking is extremely limited.
If you want a longer trek, you can start in the beautiful Laguna Lake Park, starting at the Laguna Lake Upper Loop Trail and connecting via the access road to the Rock Garden 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:
Don't miss the summit of Cerro San Luis if you are coming up to it via the west side of the Rock Garden trail. There's a fork in the trail where the southernmost fork will bypass the summit unless you take the immediate left once on the fork. Your best bet is to take the northernmost fork which is the most direct way to summit.