Cerro San Luis Mountain trail Laguna Lake Park San Luis Obispo hike

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).

Cerro San Luis Obispo Laguna Lake Park
Laguna Lake

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.

Cerro San Luis Obispo Laguna Lake Park
A mountain biker rides toward Cerro San Luis

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.

Cerro San Luis Obispo
A view of Cerro San Luis from the ridge trail

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.

Cerro San Luis Obispo Laguna Lake Park
Looking back over Laguna Lake Park
Cerro San Luis Obispo Bishop Peak
Bishop Peak and other Morros beyond Cerro San Luis Trail

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.

Cerro San Luis Obispo
Looking down on San Luis Obispo from San Luis Mountain

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.

San Luis Obispo wild poppies
Poppies along the trail

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)

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.
Trail Map

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Photos

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These photos were taken in April of 2010 and January of 2017. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
California Hike Cerro San Luis
This traditional route to the summit is four miles out and back, or five if you return via an alternate trail.
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.
Lemon Grove Trail Lemon Grove Trail
This 2.2-mile loop visits a historic lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
Bishop Peak Trail 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.
Irish Hills Morro View Trail 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 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 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 Trail 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 Islay Hill
This 1.8-mile round trip hike climbs 550 feet to the top of San Luis Obispo's easternmost Morro.
Cal Poly Canyon Design Village Trail 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 Trail 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.
San Luis Obispo hikes More 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 · Lakes · Morros · Summits · Wildflowers
Distance: 5.7 miles · Elevation change: 1150 feet

5 Comments on Laguna Lake Park to Cerro San Luis in San Luis Obispo

  1. Seth: Beautiful shots. There is a big shindig Saturday at the Carrizo Plain National Monument–tour of painted rock, BBQ, docent talk on the area. If you’re interested, call them at (805)475-2131.

    Alex Gough
    Adobe Realty

  2. hikespeak says:

    Thanks Alex! If I weren’t heading out to Joshua Tree this weekend, I would definitely make a trip to Carrizo Plain

  3. Caitlin says:

    Great hike, on a clear day you can even see the ocean and Morro Bay. I hiked the extra ridge both ways… with all the rain we’ve been having recently, this trail gets you up to high elevation/dry land very quickly. The first part is the steepest section of the whole hike but once you reach the top of the ridge you have great views and gradual terrain most of the way.

  4. […] and I climbed up the hill and saw the passageway over the ridge to the top of Cerro San Luis. Due to time restraints we did not continue onto that path, but made our own little loop along the […]

  5. What time is the Easter Sunday Service on the top of Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo, ca.?
    thank you

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