Bishops Peak Bishop Peak summit hike San Luis Obispo County Nine Sisters volcanic Morros

Sometimes called Bishop’s Peak, but more formally known as Bishop Peak, this mountain is the most sought after summit in San Luis Obispo. Bishop Peak is the tallest of the Nine Sisters, the picturesque volcanic Morros stretching across San Luis Obispo. The iconic mountain has a rocky crown shaped like a bishop’s miter, which provides panoramic views over the city and nearby peaks. The single-track trail to the 1,559-foot summit is demanding and rewarding – a truly excellent hike. From the trailhead at the top of Highland Drive to the summit is 3.5 miles round trip with 950 feet of elevation gain.

Pick up the trail on the left side of the cul-de-sac at the end of Highland Drive, and begin hiking along the left side of a wooden fence. The wide dirt trail passes through a shaded oak forest, coming to a cattle pond after a quarter mile, along with a junction with a trail from another trailhead to Bishop Peak on Patricia Drive. Turn left at the junction, following the wide road up a grassy slope. After another 0.15 miles, pass through a cattle gate to a junction with a connector trail to Felsman Loop Trail. Turn left, heading farther up the grass skirt of Bishop Peak. The trail returns to the trees, passing through a pleasant mixed forest of oaks and bays. Enjoy the temporary shade as you pass through another gate and a plaque commemorating the creation of Bishop Peak Natural Reserve.

Bishop Peak Trail San Luis Obispo
Looking east over San Luis Obispo

Exit the forest 0.7 miles from the start, and begin switching up the rocky sun-exposed mountainside. From here the hike is moderately strenuous, tackling 650 feet of elevation over 1.05 miles of switchbacks. The rocky single track climbs the southern slope of Bishop Peak through orange boulders surrounded by thriving brush. The trail offers an excellent perspective of Cerro San Luis, the adjacent Morro to the east.

Bishop Peak Trail San Luis Obispo
Cerro San Luis and the old trail coming up from Foothills Road

One mile from the start and 0.75 miles from the top, continue straight through a junction with an old trail coming up the mountain from Foothills Boulevard. This is a more direct route to the summit, which was used exclusively before the Bishop Peak Open Space and Natural Reserve were established and the current trail was built. Despite quite a few no trespassing signs, this old route across Madonna Ranch is still a much-used trail.

Bishop Peak Trail San Luis Obispo
The top of the trail and the rocks on the eastern summit

Two benches greet hikers at the top of Bishop Peak Trail. Either rest here or scramble higher up the rocks to the west or east for the most impressive views. The near summit to the right can be easily climbed by agile hikers. The grand rock offers a sweeping vista overlooking Cal Poly, downtown San Luis Obispo, Cerro San Luis, Laguna Lake, the Santa Lucia Mountains, and everything in between.

Exploring the west end of the peak is a bit trickier, but also quite fun. Massive boulders piled at the summit create windows and grottoes that are interesting to traverse. Getting to the top of these rocks requires technical climbing, but partial views are rewarded to bouldering hikers.

Bishop Peak Trail San Luis Obispo
Looking west across the top of Bishop Peak

Bishop Peak is the tallest of the nine Morros, and is the third of the Nine Sisters from the east behind Islay Hill and Cerro San Luis. To the west rises Chumash Peak and the other volcanic prominences leading out to Morro Bay. The rocky three-pointed summit, which the padres at the San Luis Obispo Mission imagined resembled a bishop’s miter, makes an excellent hiking destination with beautiful views on a clear day. Return the way you came for a 3.5-mile hike with 950 feet of elevation between the top and bottom of the trail. Mountain bikes are not allowed on Bishop Peak (instead try Cerro San Luis). Dogs are allowed on leash. No fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy.

The basic directions of to Bishop Peak area:

  1. Begin up the trail from the cul-de-sac at the top of Highland Drive
  2. Turn left at the junction after the cattle pond (0.25 miles)
  3. Pass through a cattle gate to a junction with a connector trail to Felsman Loop Trail and turn left (0.4 miles)
  4. Enter the forest and pass through the gate (0.5 miles)
  5. Leave the forest and begin up the switchbacks (0.7 miles)
  6. Continue straight through a junction with the old trail from Foothills Boulevard (1 mile)
  7. Arrive at the summit (1.75 miles)
Bishop Peak Trail San Luis Obispo
Looking across Los Osos Valley toward the Irish Hills from Bishop Peak Trail

To get to the Highland Drive Trailhead: From the 101 Freeway in San Luis Obispo, take exit 203 B to Highway 1 North. Drive north for one mile toward Morro Bay and turn left onto Highland Drive. Continue another mile to the cul-de-sac at road’s end. Roadside parking is available. Alternatively, you can start from the lower trailhead on Patricia Drive, which is also used for Felsman Loop Trail.

Trailhead address: 1 Highland Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.301153, -120.68916 (35° 18′ 04.15″N 120° 41′ 20.97″W)

To get to the Patricia Drive Trailhead: From the 101 Freeway in San Luis Obispo, take exit 203 B to Highway 1 North. Drive north for one mile toward Morro Bay and turn left onto Highland Drive. Drive half a mile and turn right onto Patricia Drive. Go another half mile, where you will spot the trailhead on the left. Roadside parking is available.

Trailhead address: Patricia Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.304331, -120.685438 (35° 18′ 15.59″N 120° 41′ 07.57″W)


Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

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These photos were taken in December of 2010. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Felsman Loop TrailFelsman Loop Trail
This 2.7-mile loop crosses oak, sagebrush, and grass-covered slopes around the base of Bishop Peak, providing excellent views of that notable rocky summit and its San Luis Obispo surroundings.
Cal Poly Canyon Design Village TrailPoly Canyon Design Village
This 2.5-mile hike visits an experimental architectural village designed by Cal Poly students at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Stenner Creek Trail The EucsStenner Creek Trail to The Eucs
This 3.7-mile hike goes up Stenner Creek Canyon past a small waterfall and views of Bishop Peak to a collection of freeride bike trails called The Eucs.
California HikeCerro San Luis
This 4-mile hike summits one of the Nine Sisters just west of downtown San Luis Obispo.
California HikeCerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park
This 5.7-mile hike reaches the summit from a nearby park.
Lemon Grove TrailLemon Grove Trail
This 2.2-mile loop visits a historic lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
South Hills TrailSouth Hills Ridge Trail
This 1.5-mile round trip hike ascends 425 feet to the highest point in a cluster of hills near downtown San Luis Obispo, offering fine views over the city and surroundings.
Irish Hills Morro View TrailMorro View
This 3.15-mile hike in the Irish Hills Natural Reserve delivers panoramic views over Los Osos Valley and the full chain of Morros.
Froom Creek TrailFroom Creek Trail
This 3-mile loop explores a canyon on the east side of the Irish Hills, ascending 500 feet to a nice view over Laguna Lake, Cerro San Luis, and Bishop Peak.
Islay HillIslay Hill
This 1.8-mile round trip hike climbs 550 feet to the top of San Luis Obispo’s easternmost Morro.
Reservoir Canyon TrailReservoir Canyon
This 5.35-mile hike ascends 1,350 feet past a waterfall and a collection of junk sculptures to a treeless summit overlooking San Luis Obispo.
West Cuesta RidgeCuesta Ridge Botanical Area
This 6-mile round trip hike crosses a ridge in the Santa Lucia Mountains with panoramic views over San Luis Obispo, ascending to a grove of Sargent cypress in a botanical area in Los Padres National Forest.
San Luis Obispo hikesMore hikes in San Luis Obispo
Explore other trails around San Luis Obispo including Morro Bay State Park and Montaña de Oro State Park.
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Tagged with · Bishop Peak Natural Reserve · Bouldering · Free Trails · Morros · Summits
Distance: 3.5 miles – Elevation change: 950 feet

21 Comments on Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo

  1. […] and skin knees shimmying up the knobby heights of Bishop’s Peak, hearts kathumping with the drop off on either side, California and her rolling hills laid out all […]

  2. Hi,
    The “official” trailhead for Bishop Peak is on Patricia Drive near the corner of Anacapa Circle.
    B. K. Richard

  3. Bruce Anderson says:

    Log books that were in secured metal boxes on the top of Bishops Peak in January were not there when I hiked in July? Any idea where I might view them?
    Thank you in advance, Bruce 805-310-2883

  4. alanamoceri says:

    I repeat B.K. Richard, the trailhead is on Patricia Drive. Great hike!

  5. MFM says:

    Actually, the trail head at Highland Drive is very restrictive parking and too impacted. The Patricia Street trail head is encouraged and there are signs posted–much easier to park and less impact on residents. Try it!

  6. Debra Anderson says:

    Are the log books from January 2013 available to view. I have an entry in the book that I would like to view? Any help would be appreciated.

  7. laebrown says:

    This remains probably my favorite SLO hike. Start from the Patricia trailhead, for sure! The meandering trails and fun bouldering opportunities easily make this a 2-3 hour+ excursion. You can’t beat that feeling of accomplishment that comes from reaching the top, now matter how many mountains you may have finished in your hiking career. A gorgeous view of San Luis, and a must-do for any visitor in the area.

  8. alyssakitz says:

    Love, love, love this hike!! I also always start from Patricia. The forested area makes this hike a bit cooler and more shaded than many other hikes in SLO County. Dogs are allowed on the trail and I’ve never been when there haven’t been dogs, but I personally leave mine at home as I feel like the last 1/4 of the hike is a bit too rocky for them.

  9. ejmorris11 says:

    Great hike, love to do it at sunset!

  10. […] I will be hiking another popular destination, Bishop’s Peak. […]

  11. KC Toomey says:

    Great to catch a sunrise!

  12. […] For more information about Bishops Peak click here. […]

  13. emelie pletcher says:

    Anyone hike it with an iphone6? please let me know how many flights of stairs it says on the pedometer reading after the hike.

  14. Gary Felsman says:

    As a courtesy, could you change the trailhead location to only call out Patricia Drive Trailhead. And park on the West, Bishop Peak, Side of the road. The peak is getting so popular that the neighborhood on Highland Drive has limited parking and is heavily impacted by the many visitors to the area. Parking is very limited on Highland Drive. The hike will be a bit longer but it is well worth it.

  15. John Morin says:

    Great hike. What is the distance roundtrip from Patricia Dr.?

  16. […] Bishop’s Peak is an iconic San Luis Obispo hike. The mountain is one of the nine sisters in San Luis Obispo County, Cerro San Luis (Mount Madonna) being another hike I previously wrote about doing sunrise yoga on with Poly Escapes last year. […]

  17. Here’s my account of regularly hiking Bishop’s Peak as a San Luis Obispo resident, and advice for the trek!

  18. […] time to soak in the beauty of the outdoors. I have so many favorite trails and beaches, but hiking Bishop’s Peak is high on the list. Make it to the top and you’ll get the best view of this charming […]

  19. […] Useful Links: Hikespeak write-up […]

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