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Top Hiking Trails for Students in San Luis Obispo

With its rolling green hills, vineyards and...



February 1, 2021

With its rolling green hills, vineyards and proximity to the ocean, San Luis Obispo is one of the prettiest places to live in California. Partially due to the dozens of hiking trails laced throughout the area, the city is known for its relaxed pace of life and outdoorsy lifestyle.  From steep mountain treks to leisurely coastal walking paths, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you happen to be a student in San Luis Obispo, here are some trails you won’t want to miss!

Bishop Peak

Bishop Peak, the tallest of San Luis Obispo’s “Nine Sisters”, offers a few trails for students of various difficulty levels. The most popular hike begins at the Patricia Drive trailhead, not far from Cal Poly, switchbacking to the summit and back with a 3.5 mile total distance. The trail is moderately difficult but well worth it, with a 1,131-foot peak that offers panoramic views of the surrounding foothills. It’s also dog-friendly and often dappled with wildflowers! If you’re an early riser, try hiking to the summit at dawn—watching the sunrise from above the clouds is sure to be a surreal experience. 



Pismo Preserve

The Pismo Preserve is a newer collection of hiking paths, open to the public as of January 2020. With six trails ranging from 1.3 to 6.8 miles, a variety of difficulty levels and round-trip loop hikes, it’s perfect for a quick stroll or something more challenging. The best part? The Pismo Preserve offers spectacular ocean views throughout your hike. From late winter to early spring, the area is covered in green grass and wildflowers set against a regularly blue sky. These trails are also popular among mountain bikers, so be sure to share the path! 



Bluff Trail, Montaña de Oro State Park

The Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park is an easy loop overlooking cliffs and tidepools. A variety of wildlife can be seen along the way, as well as incredible coastal rock formations. During certain times of year, the surrounding hills are covered in California Poppies, giving the park its name: “Mountain of Gold”. If you’re looking for a leisurely, scenic hike along the ocean shore, this is just the trail for you. The state park also offers 21 other hikes of varying difficulties, making it easy for students to spend a day exploring the nearby hills.



Terrace Hill

Terrace Hill may not be considered a hike by some standards, but it offers one of the best and most accessible views of San Luis Obispo. An easy, 0.9-mile trail to the top plateaus into an open space overlooking the city. Due to its accessibility, it’s popular among college students and the perfect place to have a picnic or watch the sunset. Terrace Hill is dog-friendly and fairly populated, with wide paths and plentiful shrubbery.


Reservoir Canyon Loop Trail

San Luis Obispo’s Reservoir Canyon Loop trail is a moderately difficult hike that winds through the foothills past a creek and a small waterfall. With 5.4 miles of gorgeous scenery, it’s a great hike to do alone, with friends or even with pets. The trail is rocky, so hiking boots are definitely a good choice! In the spring, the hills are covered with wildflowers and greenery. It’s no surprise that this trail is a favorite among students.



Poly Canyon Trail

Poly Canyon is a 6.2-mile loop that passes through the “Architecture Graveyard”, home to various sculptures and architectural projects abandoned by Cal Poly students. Halfway through the trail is the Serenity Swing, overlooking the foothills. The hike features a lot of wildlife and a few steep inclines, making it moderately difficult. It’s a great place to bring pets, eat a picnic lunch and explore the back side of the Cal Poly campus.


Johnson Ranch Trail

Johnson Ranch is a 3-mile loop that is fairly easy to hike. It’s easily accessible and located just off the freeway, with beautiful green hills and wildflowers in the spring. The trail is as popular among mountain bikers as it is among hikers, and pets are welcome. Parts of the trail wind among oak trees, while others wind through open pastures. If you’re looking for a low-key hike or a jog through the foothills, this is the trail for you!



Ontario Ridge

Ontario Ridge is a gorgeous, 2-mile coastal trail overlooking the ocean. Park at Shell Beach Road, just off the freeway, to get started. The trail begins with a very steep climb to the top of the ridge, with loose dirt and gravel along the path. But make no mistake—the views are well worth it! Despite being short, the trail is moderately difficult and a great workout. There are also swings along the path, and plenty of places to stop and admire the vibrant scenery. Go at dawn for a beautiful sunrise view of Shell Beach and the surrounding area.



Cerro San Luis Obispo

Cerro San Luis Obispo, also known as Madonna Mountain, is another of San Luis Obispo’s Nine Sisters. The 3.9-mile hike leads to the summit and back, with beautiful views of Bishop Peak, Laguna Lake and the Cal Poly campus. In the summer, it's best to start early in the day because the trail doesn’t offer much shade. The hike is pet-friendly and of moderate difficulty. If you want a really incredible view, start hiking before sunrise—you’ll see the city washed in rosy light from the summit.


Big Falls Trail

Big Falls is a 4.5-mile secluded trail with 50-foot waterfalls and deep swimmable pools during the rainy season. Located far behind Lopez Lake, it’s a fairly easy hike. Trees and lush vegetation make it pleasant and shady, and pets are welcome. From creeks to forested areas, to turtles and salamanders, this trail has it all! Because of the wet roads and overflowing creeks, a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. If you’re looking for something a little more difficult, there’s also the option to hike the complete loop, which is about 11 miles total. 

Thanks to its rolling hills and luscious scenery, San Luis Obispo is the perfect place to go hiking! If you’re a student at Cal Poly or Cuesta, give some of these trails a try. If you’re on the hunt for housing in San Luis Obispo, StudentRoomStay can help you find the perfect student accommodation! Contact us or set up your profile, and we’ll match you with your ideal housing situation. 


Happy hiking!