Along Highway One between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, there is a regional park with over 700 acres of land that were formerly part of Camp San Luis. The versatile El Chorro Regional Park sports a 63-site campground, a botanical garden, playground, picnic area, dog park, volleyball courts, ball fields, and Dairy Creek Golf Course. Additionally, the park hosts a 2.4-mile loop to Eagle Rock Viewpoint. This pleasant hour-long hike climbs 450 feet to a rocky outcropping atop a grassy hill that peers over Chorro Valley toward Hollister Peak and Morro Bay.
Make your way through El Chorro Regional Park to a gate that halts vehicle traffic up Dairy Creek Road. Park in the dirt lot on the left (just past the dog park) and slip through the gate, which is intended to keep out bicycles and strollers in addition to cars. Begin walking up the paved Dairy Creek Road. After just over a tenth of a mile, turn right up Eagle Rock Nature Trail, a well-marked single track starting next a sprawling oak with branches that beg to be climbed. The dirt track enters a live oak grove that presents a shaded quarter-mile climb to a stone landing. On the left side of the trail you will find grinding holes carved into the rock. These morteros were used by Chumash Indians to make meal from acorns. The 4-inch deep holes carved in the rock show no signs of aging. Markers along the trail correspond with a self-guided pamphlet, which can be used to enhance the hike. The grinding holes can be found next to marker 3.
Hollister Peak above Eagle Rock Nature Trail
Morteros on Eagle Rock Nature Trail
Proceed southeast another tenth of a mile and turn right through a gate on a spur trail to Eagle Rock Viewpoint. This switching single track offers over-the-shoulder views of Chorro Valley. Keep an eye to the northwest toward Hollister Peak as Morro Rock and Morro Bay come into view. After another quarter mile up a grassy slope, the trail levels out. Here you get a nice view to the northeast toward the Santa Lucia Mountains. The final tenth of a mile is level and actually slightly downhill, progressing to a bench beneath an outcropping on the side of the grassy hill.
If you gaze down the hillside to the southeast, you will see a line of the white painted rocks, making up the profile of a stone eagle constructed on the hillside below. The eagle is visible from Highway One as you drive to the park from San Luis Obispo. Beyond the viewpoint is a chain-link fence with a sternly worded no trespassing sign. Beyond the fence is Camp San Luis Obispo, a base used by the California Army National Guard (hence the patriotic stone eagle). It is ill-advised to do anything but turn back down the trail when you are finished looking things over.
Hollister Peak and Morro Bay beyond Eagle Rock Nature Trail
Return to the junction with the spur trail to Eagle Rock Viewpoint and turn right down Oak Woodlands Trail. This track descends 2/3 of a mile through more shady oaks to return to Dairy Creek Road. This trail is more gradual than Eagle Rock Nature Trail, so feel free to reverse the direction of the loop if you would like a longer easier ascent.
At the bottom of Oak Woodlands Trail, at the northeast corner of the loop, turn left and walk half a mile back to the trailhead. Halfway down the road, you will pass marker 16 on the right. Here you will find a picnic table under the shade of sycamores along the creek. The guide for the nature trail describes this as the start of “Three Bridges Trail.” Curiously, only one bridge is visible and no trail beyond it is apparent. There is a bizarrely twisted sycamore next to the bridge that is worth taking a look at.
A twisted sycamore along Dairy Creek Road
Back on Dairy Creek Road, the hike concludes shortly after passing Eagle Rock Nature Trail. No permit is required for this 2.4-mile hike in El Chorro Regional Park. Dogs are allowed on leash. Bicycles are not allowed on the dirt trails. It is typically free to enter the park. However, on weekends and holidays between April and September, there is a $3 day use fee.
To get to the trailhead: From Highway One, 5.5 miles northwest of San Luis Obispo and 7 miles southeast of Morro Bay, turn north at the light on Dairy Creek Road (across the street from Cuesta College). Drive into El Chorro Regional Park and proceed 3/4 of a mile through the park. Leave your vehicle in the lot to the left of the gate that blocks vehicle traffic and begin hiking of Dairy Creek Road.
Trailhead address: Dairy Creek Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.33567, -120.727234 (35° 20′ 08.41″N 120° 43′ 38.04″W)
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