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. Starting from Patricia Drive, the distance to the top of Bishop Peak is 4.2 miles round trip with 1,175 feet of elevation change.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
- Begin up the trail from the cul-de-sac at the top of Highland Drive
- Turn left at the junction after the cattle pond (0.25 miles)
- Pass through a cattle gate to a junction with a connector trail to Felsman Loop Trail and turn left (0.4 miles)
- Enter the forest and pass through the gate (0.5 miles)
- Leave the forest and begin up the switchbacks (0.7 miles)
- Continue straight through a junction with the old trail from Foothills Boulevard (1 mile)
- Arrive at the summit (1.75 miles)
If starting from Patricia Drive, hike up the trail for a quarter mile to a split on Felsman Loop Trail. Go up switchbacks for another quarter mile. Bear right at a junction and turn left at the next junction to connect to the trail up from Highland Avenue (a quarter mile from that trailhead). Turn right and hike up to another connector trail to Felsman Loop Trail and turn left to proceed up Bishop Peak.
To get to the Highland Drive Trailhead: From Highway 101 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, CA93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.301153, -120.68916 (35° 18′ 04.15″N 120° 41′ 20.97″W)
To get to the Patricia Drive Trailhead: From Highway 101 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)
|Felsman 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.
|Poly 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 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.
|Cerro San Luis|
This 4-mile hike summits one of the Nine Sisters just west of downtown San Luis Obispo.
|Cerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park|
This 5.7-mile hike reaches the summit from a nearby park.
|Lemon Grove Trail|
This 2.2-mile loop visits a historic lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
|South 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.
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 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.
This 1.8-mile round trip hike climbs 550 feet to the top of San Luis Obispo’s easternmost Morro.
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.
|Cuesta 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.
|More hikes in San Luis Obispo|
Explore other trails around San Luis Obispo including Morro Bay State Park and Montaña de Oro State Park.