Distance: 10 miles (total)
Max Elevation: 2,300 feet
This is a great hike to do in the spring, summer or fall – basically any time the temperature is above 65 degrees. The trail provides panoramic views of the coast from Pismo to Morro Bay. It provides a long hike with minimal effort for the wonderful rewards.
The “trail” is actually a service road for the cell towers located atop the rigde as well as a private drive for local property owners. Begin the hike by traveling Hwy. 101 to the top of Cuesta Pass, just North of San Luis Obispo, and park your vehicle in the parking area along the North-bound side of the freeway. Be sure to park off of the road/trail as it is a fire lane and vehicles will be towed. Hop the gate or go under the barbed-wire fence and follow the trail. The trail is approximately 5 miles and very well maintained. It provides room to hike, bike and even bring along your leashed dogs. There is a lot of shade at the beginning of the hike but becomes almost non-existent when you get past the 2 mile mark.
WHO CAN DO THIS HIKE?
The grade of the hike is a little steep at the beginning and near the end of the 5 miles, with an elevation gain of 1100 ft. The end isn’t any worse than the beginning so you’ll have a gauge. A friend of mine took his 6 year-old up to the end of the trail and he complained only a little. There is so much to see along the way that it took his mind off of the exertion. In the summer many people hike this trail after work when the daylight allows, so it isn’t too strenuous. If you have children, pack a lunch and get moving, you can turn around any time and it’s certainly a great opportunity to spend time outside. It might be a little too steep for them to bike, so hike it first then make the decision.
WHEN SHOULD YOU GO?
I would recommend this hike anytime the sun is up and it’s not raining. The Spring is especially beautiful when the poppies and dafodils are blooming. There are oak trees and pines that are always green and create the shade when it’s a little warm. One of the surprises is the valley of pines that you come across about 4 miles in to the hike. I think they were planted to stop soil errosion following a fire back in 1985, but they are a beautiful sight for those of us on the Central Coast accustomed to oaks and chapparal.
I would not expect to complete this 10 mile hike in less than 3 hours. I once was able to hike at 4 miles an hour, but I was wrecked the next day. So plan for this hike by bringing at least a liter of water and a little snack, or make it a late morning trek and bring along a lunch to sit and take in the views while you refuel. Be sure you stretch before you begin, as I stated earlier the beginning is a little steep and you don’t want to pull any muscles. I would recommend some low-top hikers or sturdy sneakers/tennis shoes. Most of this trail is in the Los Padres National Forrest but some of the land is private. So, if you plan on bringing your dog, please be sure to have him/her on a leash, there are deer, rabbit and an occasional cow.
I rated this hike 4 treadmills because of the initial steepness and the distance, but if you can get over the gate or through the fence you’ll have a great time.