Sydney Street Trail Murray Hill San Luis Obispo Hike

If the hike at your own risk sign at the start of Sydney Trail doesn’t intimidate you, maybe the 1,275-foot climb over 1.4 miles (one-way) will. This is a steep hike up a rocky road. The destination is a stone seating area at the top of Murray Hill (also known as Unnamed Hill), a 1,715-foot summit in the Santa Lucia Foothills with panoramic views over San Luis Obispo, more commonly reached from the north via Reservoir Canyon Trail. This rugged hike is accented with climbs over cattle gates, ensuring that you get a little upper body workout on this rigorous trek.

Park at the top of Sydney Street, one mile southeast of downtown San Luis Obispo and continue straight up a private paved road on foot. After a tenth of a mile, when the pavement ends, proceed up a dirt road, passing a warning sign for hikers about rattlesnakes and bulls (you will be hiking on the edge of an active ranch). Begin hiking up a small wooded canyon carved into the steep grass-covered hillside. It will not take long for you to understand why mountain bikers in San Luis Obispo call this trail the “hill of pain.” Sydney Street Trail would make one hell of a fat tire conquest, certainly qualifying as an HC climb in the Tour de France.

A quarter mile from the start, you will hit the first gate across the trail. Climb to the other side and continue uphill, quickly reaching another gate. Here the trail swings to the right and out of the canyon for an overview of San Luis Obispo. Swing back to the left, returning to the canyon over a third cattle gate. After climbing close to 400 feet in less than half a mile, pause to catch your breath and admire the view across the city toward Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak.

Sydney Street Trail
Looking down Sydney Street Trail

A tenth of a mile above the third and final gate, the trail switches to the right and climbs out of the canyon, gaining more elevation toward a landing that protrudes from the northwest-to-southeast running ridge that dominates Murray Hill. Look over your shoulder as you pass below a row of power lines. Can you still spot your vehicle on Sydney Street, 700 feet below?

Sydney Street Trail Murray Hill
Looking down the trail toward Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak
Sydney Street Trail Murray Hill
Looking up the trail toward the summit of Murray Hill

The rocky road angles northeast and then east for the summit, climbing another half mile (with 500 feet of elevation gain) to a junction marked by a pair of large boulder piles. To the left, Ridge Trail heads along the ridge down to a junction with Summit Trail by an old tower that houses a bell. Turn right to reach the summit. After an easy tenth of a mile, come to an unmarked junction with Reservoir Canyon Trail on the left. Don’t turn left, and don’t go straight. Instead, split the difference on a path up to the stone seating area at the top of Murray Hill.

The summit is built up with a garden of fledgling trees and impressive horseshoe-shaped stone bench ideal for resting your legs and taking in the view over Edna Valley. Farther to the south, one can see the Pismo Dunes and Point Sal. There are three windows of ocean views in all, Pismo Beach to the south, Whalers Island in San Luis Bay to the southwest, and Moro Bay to the west. The panorama does not stop there as Murray Hill looks east toward the Santa Lucia Mountains, north over Reservoir Canyon toward Cuesta Grade, and west onto the Irish Hills and several jagged Morros, including the prominently displayed Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak. It is quite a sight!

While many locals aren’t sure what to call this summit (unlike the other prominences around), it can be called Murray Hill, taking its name from Judge Walter Murray who resided in San Luis Obispo in the 1800s. Murray took part in the California gold rush after fighting in the Mexican-American War and wrote for the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Sydney Street Trail
The in-ground bench at the summit

When your legs have recovered from the ascent and your eyes have recovered from the beauty, head back the way you came. The descent is brisk but the trail is still quite rugged. No fee or permit is required to hike to Murray Hill. As with all hikes, but especially on this one, your safety is your responsibility, so do take “the hike at your own risk” sign to heart.

To get to the trailhead: Take Highway 101 to exit 203 in downtown San Luis Obispo. Drive half a mile southeast on California Street and turn right on San Luis Drive. After a third of a mile, continue southeast on Johnson Street. Drive 0.8 miles and turn left on Sydney Street (one block after Bishop). Go a quarter mile up Sydney Street and park along the side of the road at the top of the street.

Trailhead address: 1800 Sydney Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Trailhead coordinates: 35.27307, -120.641322 (35° 16′ 23.05″N 120° 38′ 28.75″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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These photos were taken in July and December of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Reservoir Canyon Trail Reservoir Canyon Trail
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.
Summit Trail Bell Tower Hike Reservoir Canyon Summit Trail
This 4.1-mile hike ascends to a point on the northwest end of the ridge above Reservoir Canyon, presenting panoramic views over San Luis Obispo from the base of an old tower with a bell that can be rung with a thrown pebble.
Reservoir Canyon Summit Loop Reservoir Canyon Trail - Summit Trail Loop
This 5.6-mile loop ventures up Reservoir Canyon Trail to the summit viewpoint, crosses Ridge Trail to the bell tower, and descends Summit Trail back into Reservoir Canyon.
Creek Bypass Trail Loop Creek Bypass Trail Loop
This 1-mile hike takes the beginnings of Summit Trail and Reservoir Canyon Trail and connect them with a short trail boasting big canyon views.
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.
Islay Hill Islay Hill
This 1.8-mile round trip hike climbs 550 feet to the top of San Luis Obispo's easternmost Morro.
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.
San Luis Obispo Hike Cerro San Luis from Laguna Lake Park
This 5.7-mile hike reaches the summit from a nearby park.
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.
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.
West Cuesta Ridge 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.
East Cuesta Ridge East 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.
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 · Summits
Distance: 2.8 miles · Elevation change: 1275 feet

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4 Comments on Sydney Street Trail to Murray Hill (Unnamed Hill) in San Luis Obispo

  1. craig kincaid wrote:

    the hill you refer to as Murray is not named by any authority, I have this on official record from Neil Havlik, the natural resources manager for the City of San Luis Obispo
    some people even call it High School ridge

  2. Ruth wrote:

    We tried to hike but there are signs at the trailhead prohibiting entrance. A huge ‘No Trespassing’ sign and a private property sign. We respected them and found a different trail in SLO.

    • Kirk wrote:

      Ignore the sign. I’m 26, a local, and grew up just around the corner. When I’m on the trail I always see 2-5 people hiking. I have never seen the owner stop someone. Historically I think it’s an old PGE access easement

  3. Karen wrote:

    The trail is private. I’ve been asked to return to my car as it’s on private property. I always try to respect owners and land rights, so I might suggest taking this hike off your site. Also, this whole hillside isn’t bike-friendly. Hikers only, as the trails are too narrow and it’s unsafe.