Sycamore Crest Trail is a wide dirt road on the north slope of Ontario Hill, which runs east to west between Shell Beach and Avila Beach. Beginning from Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Valley, the trail climbs through a lush oak grove to reach a junction with Ontario Ridge Trail at a south-facing saddle with lofty ocean views. Sycamore Crest Trail serves as a 1.75-mile out and back hike with 575 feet of elevation gain, and the trek can be extended by exploring more of Ontario Ridge.
Sycamore Crest Trail is fairly straightforward. Once you leave Sycamore Springs, there are no junctions until the top of the hill. From the parking lot, look for a sign marked Sycamore Trail to the right of Gardens of Avila Restaurant, and follow the road up a steep switchback to the trailhead. When the pavement ends, pick up the well-maintained service road climbing steadily up a broad ridge lined with red-barked Manzanita trees and Coastal Live Oaks. Through the forest, there are obstructed views of the Irish Hills to the north, and the Santa Lucia Mountains beyond.
As you ascend, the oaks grow taller and the forest becomes lusher, filled with ferns and mossy undergrowth. Despite limited views, the landscape is quite pleasant. This is a suitable hike for a warm day, minus the steady elevation gain, thanks to generous shade from the canopy overhead.
After progressing east up the side of a draw in Ontario Hill, Sycamore Crest Trail tapers out and comes to an end at a T-junction with Ontario Ridge Trail. The trees break, giving way to dramatic south-facing views down a sage-covered slope. Below the hill are Pirate’s Cove, Cave Landing, and a whole lot of turquoise water. To the west are Avila Beach and San Luis Harbor. It is quite a sight! Before returning down Sycamore Crest Trail, take a moment to explore the ridge, and redeem the ocean vistas earned on the ascent.
To the right, a short but steep trail ascends to a summit on the west end of Ontario Hill. This addition is 0.15 miles long, one way, ascending to just over 700 feet. From the top, there are excellent views over Avila Beach. Along this trail to the top, and just west of the top of Sycamore Crest Trail, a short, steep trail descends the other side of ridge to Cave Landing. East of the top of Sycamore Crest Trail, Ontario Ridge Trail rises to the 735-foot summit of Ontario Hill, reaching it a quarter mile from the top of Sycamore Crest Trail. Bagging both peaks will add about 0.8 miles round trip to your trek up Sycamore Crest Trail.
An elaborate extension to this hike, which requires a car shuttle, is to continue east from Sycamore Crest Trail down Ontario Ridge Trail to Shell Beach, and then hike back up the coast on Shell Beach Bluff Trail to the trailhead at Cave Landing. This is a scenic 3.25-mile one-way hike. Without the shuttle, you could hike up the steep track from Cave Landing to Ontario Hill and return down Sycamore Crest Trail for a 4.5-mile lollipop loop with some serious ups and downs.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort has been in business for over a century, and offers more than just hiking trails. There is free parking in the resort’s main lot. No fee or permit is required to hike Sycamore Crest Trail, and dogs are welcome. While there is a history of parking at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort to hike Sycamore Crest Trail, they may ask you to park elsewhere. For a longer hike, connector trail allows you to reach Sycamore Crest Trail from Bob Jones Bike Trail.
Bob Jones Bike Trail to Sycamore Crest Trail: There is a trail connecting to Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, 3/4 of a mile from the east end of Bob Jones Bike Trail, just west of See Creek. You can reach it from either end of Bob Jones Bike Trail or from a starting point near the middle. Park in one of the spaces along Bay Laurel Place near Woodstone Market (don’t use the most convenient customer parking), just of San Luis Bay Drive. There is a path from the parking area outside the marker that quickly reaches Bob Jones Bike Trail. Turn left, walk 0.3 miles up Bob Jones Trail, and turn right on a dirt trail (before reaching the bridge over Sea Creek). Pass through some cabins in Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and walk a tenth of a mile to a bridge. Turn right and take the bridge over San Luis Obispo Creek. Cross the bridge to reach the resort and continue walking 1/8 of a mile uphill on the paved road to the start of Sycamore Crest Trail, adding half a mile (one way) to Sycamore Crest Trail.
To get to the trailhead: From the 101 Freeway seven miles south of San Luis Obispo, exit on Avila Beach Drive and head west for 0.8 miles to Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort. Turn left into the large parking lot, find a space, and walk up the road to the right of Gardens of Avila Restaurant to reach the trail.
Trailhead address: 1215 Avila Beach Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.18595, -120.714558 (35° 11′ 09.41″N 120° 42′ 52.40″W)
To get to the alternate trailhead: Take the 101 Freeway 6.5 miles south of San Luis Obispo to exit 196 for San Luis Bay Drive. Drive 1.4 miles southwest on San Luis Bay Drive and, before reaching Avila Beach Drive, turn left on Bay Laurel Place. Pass Woodstone Market & Deli and drive a tenth of a mile to one of the parking spaces on either side of the road.
Trailhead address: 6675 Bay Laurel Place, Avila Beach, CA 93424
Trailhead coordinates: 35.1894, -120.72 (35° 11′ 21.83″N 120° 43′ 11.99″W)
|Bob Jones Bike Trail|
This easy 5-mile round trip hike or ride follows San Luis Obispo Creek to Avila Beach.
|Shell Beach Bluff Trail – Ontario Ridge Trail Loop|
This 2.8-mile loop explores the coast between Shell Beach and Avila Beach, on and below a 700-foot ridge.
This half-mile round trip hike descends 100 feet to a natural rock bridge at the end of a headland east of Avila Beach.
|Point San Luis Lighthouse via Pecho Coast Trail|
This docent-led 3.5-mile out and back hike crosses scenic coastal bluffs to reach the historic lighthouse on Point San Luis.
|Oso Flaco Lake Trail|
This hike of 2 miles or more takes a boardwalk over a coastal lake and across sand dunes to an out-of-the-way beach.
|More hikes in San Luis Obispo|
Explore other trails around San Luis Obispo including Morro Bay State Park, Montaña de Oro State Park, and the Morros.