Design Village Trail San Luis Obispo Cal Poly Architectural Design Village Cal Poly Canyon Road hike

The Poly Canyon Design Village is a hamlet of unique and varied structures built over the decades by architecture students at California Polytechnic State University. Design Village is located on a quiet grassy hillside contoured by babbling creeks shaded by coast live oaks. The village is a short distance from the Cal Poly campus and creates a pleasant and interesting destination for a 2.5-mile hike with 300 feet of elevation gain.

This hike begins from the northeast corner of the Cal Poly campus in San Luis Obispo. Start up Poly Canyon Road, a dirt service road that provides a gradual ascent. The first half-mile is almost completely level, allowing your legs to warm up as you leave the dorms of Cal Poly for a riparian forest at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

After 0.45 miles, continue straight through an intersection with a gated road heading up the ridge to the right. Just ahead, there are wooden steps descending the bank to the left through a eucalyptuses grove. There is a creek crossing here leading to a narrow single-track along the steep bank on the other side of Brizziolari Creek. A variation of this hike is to trek up the canyon on this slim path paralleling Poly Canyon Road. There are great views of Bishop Peak and neighboring Morros at the start of the hike.

Cal Poly Canyon Design Village
Hiking on Poly Canyon Road above Brizziolari Creek

The wide dirt road continues northeast up the canyon alongside Brizziolari Creek, gradually gaining 100 feet of elevation. The road comes to a picnic area on the left, followed by the return of the footpath from the other side of the creek. Brizziolari Creek passes beneath Poly Canyon Road just before a wooden bridge on the right that connects to East Canyon Trail. This is the turning point for another hike, which climbs to an overlook on Yucca Ridge. To reach the Design Village, continue a short distance farther to a turnoff on the right beneath an impossible-to-miss stone arch, 3/4 of a mile from the start.

Cal Poly Canyon Design Village
Hiking through the stone arch into the Design Village

Pass below the elegant arch and continue up a trail lined by short stone walls. Cross a concrete bridge and arrive at the base of the hill of student constructions. From here, there is dirt road through the village, along with several interconnecting paths, allowing you to visit each structure via a contorted loop or another course of your choosing. Getting lost would be difficult, so relax and explore.

Since the 1970s, Cal Poly College of Architecture and Environmental Design students have used Poly Canyon as an outdoor test room to experiment with new constructions. Highlights of the village include: Shell House, Bridge house, Stick House, and Underground House (which may have been designed by Dr. Seuss). The Design Village is still used by the university and the installations will change over time.

Cal Poly Canyon Design Village
Underground House

The houses and structures are architecturally experimental, abstract, and unique. Each one offers a different experience. Many of the constructions seem designed to integrate with the environment, including an amphitheater built along the creek beneath an open geodesic dome. Several of the old houses are dilapidated, showing signs of vandalism, but the small diverse village is still an interesting place to visit.

Cal Poly Canyon Design Village
Stick House

Once you’ve taken it all in, hike back down across the bridge and under the arch to Poly Canyon Road. Return the way you came for an easy 2.5 to 2.75-mile hike (depending on how much of the village you explore). Dogs are welcome. Bikes are allowed on Poly Canyon Road but not within the village. On weekends, access to the trail is free and no permit is required. On school days, there is an entrance fee and a permit is required to get on campus.

To get to the trailhead: From Highway 101 (exit 203D from the south and exit 204 from the north), exit on to Grand Ave and head north for 1/3 of a mile to the Cal Poly campus. On weekdays stop at the visitor station and purchase a parking pass. On weekends, continue straight ahead for another 0.4 miles to the end of the road. Turn right on Perimeter Road and drive another 0.2 miles to Village Drive. Turn right and pull into the H4 parking lot on the left. From the lot, walk up to the intersection with Klamath Road and continue north for another 0.1 miles on Village Road. Take the slight right on to Poly Canyon Road to begin the hike. There is a gate at the bottom of the dirt road.

Trailhead address: Poly Canyon Road & Village Drive, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.304484, -120.658447 (35° 18′ 16.14″N 120° 39′ 30.40″W)

Trail Map
View Poly Canyon Design Village in a larger map
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.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.

Photos

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These photos were taken in January of 2011 and November of 2015. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
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.
Stenner Creek Trail – Red Dog Trail – Poly Canyon Road LoopStenner Creek Trail – Red Dog Trail – Poly Canyon Road Loop
This 4.25-mile loop goes beyond the Eucs to explore grass-covered slopes at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
West Cuesta RidgeCuesta Ridge Botanical Area
This 6-mile round trip hike crosses a ridge in the Santa Lucia Mountains above Poly Canyon with panoramic views over San Luis Obispo, ascending to a grove of Sargent cypress in a botanical area in Los Padres National Forest.
East Cuesta RidgeEast Cuesta Ridge
This wide dirt road offers an 8.4-mile hike to the top of Mount Lowe or a longer trek to the top of Lopez Canyon Trail, offering ocean views over San Luis Obispo and inland views over an evergreen wilderness.
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.
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.
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.
Cerro San Luis M Trail“M” Trail
This spur off the trail up Cerro San Luis makes its own 1.9-mile round trip hike leading to the large white “M” installed halfway up the east side of the mountain.
California HikeCerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park
This 5.7-mile hike ascends to the peak from a nearby park.
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.
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 · Cal Poly · Creeks · Free Trails · Santa Lucia Mountains
Distance: 2.5 miles · Elevation change: 300 feet

4 Comments on Poly Canyon Design Village in San Luis Obispo

  1. David says:

    Cool – I’ll have to check this one out if I’m ever in the area.

  2. […] and chaparral, following a creek path on its north side. Towards the end of the road is the Design Village, a space where architecture students go out to build experimental structures. Each spring the space […]

  3. JJ says:

    When will you be having design village. Is this event open to students from other campus locations.

  4. […] breakfast. But at the meal I met a nice lady who visited the area every year. She recommended The Architectural Graveyard at California Polytechnic State University, then Hoagies restaurant for dinner. We really didn’t […]

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