San Luis Obispo South Hills Open Space Ridge Trail hike

While shorter than the more celebrated prominences around San Luis Obispo (those attention-seeking Morros known as the Nine Sisters), the 580-foot summit of the South Hills provides excellent easy-to-reach views of San Luis Obispo. There is a perimeter loop trail touring the 133-acre South Hills Open Space, along with a ridge trail that provides a 1.5-mile round trip hike as it ascends 450 feet to the top of the green space just south of downtown San Luis Obispo.

There are a few access points to South Hills Open Space. The Ridge Trail hike begins from the Woodridge Trailhead, 0.2 miles south of South Street on Exposition Drive. There are large signs at the trailhead describing the plants and animals living in South Hills Open Space, along with an aerial map of the trail.

South Hills San Luis Obispo
The start of the trail

Begin hiking south up the dirt single track along the left side of a draw in the hillside. After 1/8 of a mile, pass through a cattle gate crossing the trail. Just before the gate, there is a footpath to the left to a low overlook. Continue up the grassy slope for another 1/8 of a mile to a marked junction at a saddle in the ridgeline. Turn left toward the rocky slope leading up to the highpoint of the park. Straight ahead, the Loop Trail continues a short distance to a meeting with a dirt road heading uphill to the right to a collection of transceiver towers. The trail heads in the other direction as well, down around the hill to a few other trailheads.

Left of the junction, the single track crosses the saddle and meets the rocky ridge. The trail angles to the right, southeast, up through the rock formations, becoming faint in places as it tackles a slope of blue-gray boulders circled by brushgrass. The views become progressively more panoramic as you climb. North of the city rises Cerro San Luis (or San Luis Mountain) and behind that is Bishop Peak. Laguna Lake and the Irish Hills are in sight to the west, and the Santa Lucia Mountains can be seen to the east and south, framing the Edna Valley. Eventually, the easternmost Morro, Islay Hill, becomes visible as well.

South Hills San Luis Obispo
Looking west over the South Hills toward Laguna Lake

The craggy rocks on the windswept slopes of the South Hills create a picturesque foreground for hikers on this trail. Few plant species can grow in the serpentine soil covering the South Hills. The grasses and wildflowers that are able to grow here are uniquely suited for the tough environment, and thrive absent the competition of gamier species. The grassy tree-less terrain provides open views of the surrounding city and peaks.

South Hills San Luis Obispo
Hiking to the top of the South Hills

There is a false summit a quarter mile from the junction. Fortunately, the trail continues along the ridge for another quarter mile to an even higher point at the top of the South Hills. The grassy summit provides sweeping 360-degree views. Take in the impressive sights before returning the way your came. This 1.5-mile hike to the 580-foot top of the South Hills is a brief and enjoyable excursion just blocks from downtown San Luis Obispo. Dogs are welcome on the trail, and no fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy.

South Hills San Luis Obispo
Hiking back down to San Luis Obispo

To get to the trailhead: From the 101 Freeway, exit on Madonna Road and head northeast for 1/4 of a mile to Higuera Street. Turn left and continue north for one black to South Street and turn right. Make the second right on to Exposition Drive after 1/3 of a mile. Continue a quarter mile to the Woodridge Trailhead on the right, just after an intersection with Corrida Drive where Exposition Drive becomes Woodbridge Street. Roadside parking is available.

Trailhead address: 385 Woodbridge Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Trailhead coordinates: 35.266599, -120.664339 (35° 15′ 59.75″N 120° 39′ 51.62″W)

Use the map below to view the trail and get directions:

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These photos were taken in December of 2010. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Islay HillIslay Hill
This 1.8-mile round trip hike climbs 550 feet to the top of San Luis Obispo’s easternmost Morro.
Murray Hill HikeMurray Hill via Sydney Street Trail
This 2.8-mile round trip hike rapidly ascends 1,275 feet up a rugged trail to a stone seating area at a summit with panoramic views.
Lemon Grove TrailLemon Grove Trail
This 2.2-mile loop visits a historic lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
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 ascends to the summit from a nearby park.
Bishop Peak TrailBishop Peak
This 3.5-mile hike ascends 950 feet to highest summit in the Nine Sisters, offering excellent views of San Luis Obispo and the surrounding Morros.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 · Free Trails · Summits
Distance: 1.5 miles – Elevation change: 450 feet

2 Comments on South Hills Ridge Trail in San Luis Obispo

  1. Brian says:

    There is another trailhead to access this trail at 2695 Meadow St. This is called the Northside Trail access to the South Hills Open Space. It can be reached by walking down the extension of Mitchell Rd that is signed “private drive”. You will see a trail sign as you walk part way down.

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