For all its rustic natural beauty and rolling hills, it should come as no surprise that San Luis Obispo is packed to the brim with fantastic biking and hiking trails. Hiking is a favorite pastime here on the Central Coast, with college tourists, local families, and tourists all enjoying the great exercise and panoramic views from favorites like Bishop’s Peak and Montana de Oro. The best part… hiking and biking all throughout the Central Coast is always 100% free! As part of our 101 spotlight series highlighting the free activities you can do in this area, today we’ll tell you about some of our favorite hiking and biking trails that keep us going back again and again.
#17: Big Falls
Located in the relatively remote hills in the Santa Lucia Wilderness, north of Lopez Lake, the trip to Big Falls is well worth the adventure. The trail follows the Big Falls Creek up the wooded canyon, crossing the creek back and forth as the trail makes its way up. You’ll see the Big Falls namesake, a 40-foot double waterfall crashing over limestone rock. Remember that the road up to the Big Falls trailhead is a little untamed; you’ll cross over the creek over a dozen times on an unpaved road. You’ll need a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle to get to the top, but beautiful pools and waterfalls await you, and it’s all part of the adventure.
#24: Mountain Bike in Montana de Oro
Whatever you enjoy; biking, hiking, walking, horseback riding, Montana de Oro has a trail for you. This state park has a varied terrain, from beaches to rustic hills, and offers beautiful ocean and canyon views. There are many ways to explore this natural playground, which is located about 20 minutes outside of San Luis Obispo in Los Osos, but the mountain biking options are incredibly exciting. For beginning to intermediate riders, The Bluff Trail, Islay Creek Road, and Hazard Canyon Road are your best bet. If you’re experienced and want a ride that’s a little bit more thrilling, try East Boundary, Hazard Peak, or Barranca.
#5: Mountain Bike the Irish Hills area
#67: Ontario Ridge Trail
Reflect over the ocean view to the west and the hills and canyons to the east on Ontario Ridge Trail, located just above Avila and Shell Beaches with fantastic views of both. It’s a 2.1 mile trail on the cliffs, parts of which can be incredibly steep, so plan accordingly. However, once you’re at the top, the views and ocean breeze are simply refreshing.
#26: Hike in Reservoir Canyon Open Space
Perhaps one of the most challenging hikes in the San Luis Obispo area, Reservoir Canyon is also highly rewarding. The 5.35 mile round trip hike ascends 1,350 feet through the foothills and canyons behind San Luis Obispo, 800 of which occur during the last laborious mile. You’ll get lost in the various flora and fauna, and have time to reflect on interesting landmarks along the way, like a tree swing and a clearing with metal sculptures. The view from the top will reward your efforts, with panoramic views in every direction.
#16: Bike Ride in Downtown San Luis Obispo
Downtown San Luis Obispo is a great option for a leisurely bike ride that’s also educational. In a 4-mile, largely flat ride, bike past historical sites in San Luis Obispo like Mission de Tolosa (1772), The Creamery (1910), the Railroad District, and the Dallidet Adobe (1859). This option is perfect for an afternoon out with the whole family.
#35: Bishop’s Peak
Bishop’s Peak is a landmark in San Luis Obispo and one of the most popular hikes. If you asked a local about the best hikes around, you’d get recommendations for Bishop’s Peak every time. It’s a moderate, 4-mile round trip that takes you to the top of one of the Seven Sisters, the series of volcanic plugs that line the Central Coast. Once you make it to the top, you’ll get an awesome view of the city of San Luis Obispo, with a faint glimpse of the ocean in the distance.
For more information on hikes throughout the Central Coast, check out our Martin Resorts website.