Madonna Mountain is an iconic mountain in the Seven Sisters range of volcanic peaks. Madonna Mountain is quite literally the center of the City of San Luis Obispo. The mountain is an extinct volcano and next to Morro Rock is the most well known of the Seven Sister Volcanoes. Madonna Mountain has a sorted local history between the owners and the City. The mountain has had many names over the years such as Cerro San Luis, San Luis Mountain, and more recently Madonna Mountain. Many will point out that the giant “M” on the mountain does NOT stand for Madonna, rather it is for Mission Prep High School in San Luis Obispo. My entire life in SLO (sing the 1970’s) I can remember the majority of people calling the mountain “Madonna Mountain” so that is what it is being called in this article. The truth is that Madonna Mountain is an absolutely beautiful mountain to hike, the trail is very well maintained, and there are are several ways to get to the top.
There are two (2) main trailheads to gain access to the mountain. The first, and most well known, is right off the Marsh Street exit from Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo. There is a large parking area and well marked trailhead. The second trailhead is much more difficult to locate and is at the end of a road named Serrano. You can locate Serrano just off of Broad Street in San Luis Obispo.
The trail is frequented by mountain bikers but they are usually very good about utilizing bells for their bikes to avoid pedestrian collisions on the mountain. The hike starts with a strong incline and levels out about 1/2 of the way up the mountain. It is a family friendly hike. I have taken my 2 boys up the mountain when they were very young.
Madonna Mountain is one of the hikes close enough to my office to allow me to go on a nice lunch hike/run. During the Christmas season the owners of the mountain place a huge Christmas tree at the top of the mountain. It’s not an actual tree rather it is strings of lights that look like a tree from very far away. Madonna Mountain is on my top 3 hikes that you should do on the Central Coast of California.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
The hike isn’t very technical. It starts out as a wide trail and about 1/2 of the way up it meets with an old dirt road that takes you the top. I have taken my boys to the top when they were 5 and 6 years old.
Anyone who is in good enough physical condition to walk a few miles is in good enough condition to do this hike. But remember that the first half mile can be strenuous so take your time. I would recommend this hike to families with young children as young as 8.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
You can hike Madonna Mountain year round. There are very few days of rain or hot weather in San Luis Obispo which makes for outstanding hiking weather.
As mentioned above, you will need to be aware that the first half mile of this hike can be strenuous. Remember to take your time.
GEAR LIST (day hike)
Water, good walking/hiking shoes, hat, camera, day pack, food/snacks.