Islay Hill Trail San Luis Obispo Islay Hill Open Space hike Morros Nine Sisters SLO

Islay Hill stands at the eastern end of the chain of volcanic plugs running across San Luis Obispo. If Bishop Peak is the most iconic Morro, than Islay Hill is about the easiest to hike (with the exception of Black Hill). The dome-shaped 776-foot summit is more mound than mountain, but you will find 550 feet of elevation gain on the 1.8-mile round trip hike to the top. Since Islay Hill is farther east than any other Morro, it offers the closest perspective of the Santa Lucia Mountains and a panoramic overview of Edna Valley.

The hike begins from a residential cul-de-sac southwest of Islay Hill, four miles from downtown San Luis Obispo. Cross a wooden footbridge over a concrete ditch to find a dirt trail heading up the hill.

With one switchback, the single track quickly climbs a grassy bluff, before tapering out and swinging past a cluster of oaks to find Islay’s northern slope. Sagebrush covers the hillside, offering clear views toward the South Hills, downtown San Luis Obispo, Cerro San Luis, and Bishop Peak.

Stay to the right through a split in the trail, 0.6 miles from the start. The trail to the left descends 0.3 miles to an alternate trailhead on Huckleberry Lane. From the junction, the narrow trail climbs more aggressively to the east where the bucolic landscape below is framed by the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Hike San Luis Obispo
Hiking the bottom of Islay Hill Trail

A sharp switchback to the right announces the final ascent, a 0.15-mile push to the top. At the summit of Islay Hill, you will find a ten-foot tall wooden pole with iron climbing pegs that resembles the bottom of an electric pole. This fun hill-topper provides a unique climax to the hike. Climb the pole to get above the round summit of Islay Hill for a truly 360 degree view.

To the north and east are the Santa Lucia Range, an imposing wall of green mountains. To the south is a tapestry of vineyards covering Edna Valley. To the southwest is the San Luis Obispo Airport. To the northwest is downtown San Luis Obispo and the more emblematic Morros of Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak.

Hike San Luis Obispo
Sitting on the viewing pole at the top of Islay Hill

Hop off the pole and hike back the way your came. It is downhill all the way. Dogs are welcome on leash, but mountain bikes are prohibited. No permit is required to hike Islay Hill in Islay Hill Open Space, and roadside parking is free.

To get to the trailhead: From Highway 101, take exit 200 onto Los Osos Valley Road and go 0.3 miles east to Higuera Street. Turn left and drive 0.4 miles north to Tank Farm Road. Turn right and drive 2.7 miles to Wavertree Street (just before a bigger intersection with Orcutt Road). Turn right and drive 0.4 miles the end of Wavetree Street. Turn left on Spanish Oaks Drive and make an immediate right on Sweet Bay Lane. Park near the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. The trail begins from the end of Sweet Bay Lane.

Trailhead address: 1364 Sweet Bay Lane, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Trailhead coordinates: 35.243296, -120.62713 (35° 14′ 35.86″N 120° 37′ 37.67″W)

Trail Map
View San Luis Obispo 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.


Islay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis ObispoIslay Hill San Luis Obispo

These photos were taken in December of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
South Hills Trail 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.
Terrace Hill Open Space Terrace Hill
This 0.55-mile hike tours a flattened mountaintop in the city of San Luis Obispo that hosts panoramic views of the surroundings.
Murray Hill Hike Murray Hill via Sydney Street Trail
This 2.8-mile round trip hike rapidly ascends 1,275 feet up a rugged trail to a stone seating area at a summit with panoramic views.
California Hike Cerro San Luis
This 4-mile hike summits one of the Nine Sisters just west of downtown San Luis Obispo, delivering panoramic views.
California HikeCerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park
This 5.7-mile hike reaches the summit from a nearby park, enjoying even more San Luis Obispo views.
Cerro San Luis M Trail "M" Trail
This extensions off the trail up Cerro San Luis makes its own 1.9-mile round trip hike 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 historical lemon grove on the eastern slopes of Cerro San Luis.
M & Lemon Grove Trail Lemon Grove & "M" Trails Loop
This 2.4-mile hike uses all of the "M" Trail and part of Lemon Grove Loop Trail for a scenic circuit on the east side 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.
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.
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.
Johnson Ranch San Luis Obispo Johnson Ranch Loop
This 2.5 to 3.7-mile loop explores a grassy open space just south of 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.
OK! Add to trails I’ve hiked
OK! Add to trails I want to hike
Tagged with · Free Trails · Morros
Distance: 1.8 miles · Elevation change: 550 feet

7 Comments on Islay Hill in San Luis Obispo

  1. emma wrote:

    it is a great hike. Get to many different places. You should hike or jog it.

  2. Jerry wrote:

    What types of owls are on Islay Hill

  3. Molly wrote:

    “If Bishop Peak is the most iconic Morro”…..

    Lol, it’s not, MORRO ROCK is.

  4. WanLiz wrote:

    Nice uphill hike with the best approach trailhead from Sweet Bay Drive. Many comments about gravelly areas. Our little 5 year old hiker slipped on her bum several times doing down. Hiking poles are a plus on this trail. On they way up, we saw three grinding rocks on the left side of the trail. We saw a large coyote on our way down and a nice red tailed hawk cruising above us.

  5. Cheryl Goodwin wrote:

    The pole now has a giant cow climbing it, holding binoculars. Very fun to see at top of the hill.

  6. […] we decided to hike the last or first of the Nine Sisters depending on where you start counting. Islay Hill. After mapping our route we drove through an residential neighborhood near the airport and parked. […]

  7. Will wrote:

    Found many interesting clusters of mushrooms growing out of the plentitude of cow turds. Any idea if they are edible? Cannot seem to find any info, Small brown caps with brown gills and lighter curved stems.

Ask a question or share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go the extra miles...
Submit a rating of this hike to go with your comment. Contribute to the average trail rating.