Located just west of downtown San Luis Obispo, the 1,292-foot Cerro San Luis (or San Luis Mountain) offers sweeping views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and other peaks in the Morros, the chain of mountains that Cerro San Luis is a part of. The Morros, or Nine Sisters, are a line of prominent volcanic peaks between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. These beautiful peaks set the postcard-like backdrop to SLO and make excellent hiking destinations. Cerro San Luis offers an excellent view of the adjacent Bishop Peak, perhaps the most well know member of the Morros.
Laguna Lake Park lies south of Cerro San Luis. This 375-acre park includes a 25-acre lake and several hiking trails. The trek from Laguna Lake Park up San Luis Mountain is 5.7 mile round trip with 1,150 feet of elevation gain (for those who prefer something shorter, there is also a more direct four-mile route from a trailhead at the end of Fernandez Road).
The start of this trek gives hikers a few options, as there are a number of routes to the base of San Luis Mountain. One trail heads straight up the center of Laguna Lake Park beneath a row of power lines. To the left, a trail travels closer to the lake shore, and to the right, a third trail travels closer to the base of a long ridge that runs alongside the park, Laguna Ridge. Take any of these parallel trails heading northeast through a grass field toward the park boundary. When the trail of your choosing comes even with Cerro San Luis, turn right and follow the trail uphill to the left of a prominent outcropping.
Another trail can be seen crossing Laguna Ridge to the right. This single track is a fourth option from Laguna Lake Park. It provides tremendous views and should be taken in at least one direction on this hike. To start this way, take the path across from the bathrooms and hike up the notch in the ridge. The trail is steep at the start (may be preferable to return by this route) and passes through an open space adjacent to the park that is owned by the Madonna Family. Much of Cerro San Luis itself is owned by the Madonnas, and for this reason, some locals actually call Cerro San Luis by the name Madonna Mountain. After climbing up the notch, the trail turns left and follows the ridgeline through fields of grains where poppies and larkspur bloom in spring.
From the junction of the trails, continue north toward the summit. The trail joins a wider dirt road ascending from behind Madonna Inn. At the T-junction 0.4 miles later, turn left heading up hill. The wide trail bends around the northern slope to offer fantastic views of Bishop Peak. Three other Morros, Chumash Peak, Cerro Romualdo, and Hollister Peak can also be seen from this vantage point.
The trail continues to climb, swinging around to the north side of the mountain. Coast live oaks provide occasional shade, while Indian paintbrush, morning glories, lupines, monkeyflower, and other wildflowers add splashes of color to the trail-side in the spring.
Cal Poly, northern San Luis Obispo, and the Santa Lucia Mountains fill the view as the trail winds up to a loop beneath the summit. Turn right or left here (or take the foot path straight up to the western summit) to loop around to the upper eastern summit. From a white platform at the top of the road where special church services are held, climb up the pile of boulders at the top of the peak.
Around Easter, a tall white cross stands atop the summit. At Christmas, lights are put up that look like a tree. Neither interferes with the sweeping views of San Luis Obispo.
To return to Laguna Lake Park, complete the loop around the summit and head back down the trail. If you ascended via one of the park trails, take the path across Laguna Ridge on the descent. The views will not disappoint. Dogs and mountain bikers are allowed. No fee or permit is requires, so get out and enjoy.
To get to the trailhead: From Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo, exit on Madonna Road and head west for half a mile. Turn right on Dalidio Drive to enter Laguna Lake Park. Park at the end of the drive or turn left at the only intersection to find parking closer to the lakefront trail.
Trailhead address: 504 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.26521, -120.68274 (35° 15′ 54.75″N 120° 40′ 57.86″W)
|Cerro San Luis |
This traditional route to the summit is four miles out and back, or five if you return via an alternate 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.
|Lemon Grove Trail |
This 2.2-mile loop visits a historic lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
|Bishop 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.
|Morro 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 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.
|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.
|South Hills Ridge Trail |
This 1.5-mile round trip hike ascends 450 feet to the highest point in a cluster of hills near downtown San Luis Obispo, offering fine views over the city and surroundings.
|Islay Hill |
This 1.8-mile round trip hike climbs 550 feet to the top of San Luis Obispo's easternmost Morro.
|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.
|Reservoir 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.
|More hikes in San Luis Obispo |
Explore other trails around San Luis Obispo including Morro Bay State Park and Montaña de Oro State Park.