Sights on our Sisters: Central Coast’s Favorite Hiking Vistas
The Central Coast is renowned for its iconic natural beauty – rolling hills dotted with Spanish Oaks and pristine cliffside or sandy beaches, the perfect setting for R & R – rest and recreation.
One of the most prominent features of this Central Coast beauty is a chain of geological peaks – referred to as the Seven Sisters (or nine, depending whom you’re asking). The chain of sisters shapes, protects, and enriches the county with an impressive panorama, dividing the valley into quaint cozy communities. The sisters are technically a chain of volcanic peaks stretching from Morro Bay through the city of San Luis Obispo. The peaks are more than 20,000,000 years old and were created as volcanic plugs of magma welled inside softer rock – the latter of which has long since eroded away.
The sisters are also home to some of the best hiking and riding trails in the county, paths to breathtaking vistas of entire valleys and bay views. If there’s one fast way to reset your day and reconnect to what’s wonderful about SLO County, set your GPS onto one of the sisters’ trail heads and get moving up the path. It will shift your perspective in an instant.
Below is a lineup of the sisters – where you can find them (in order from Morro Bay to east San Luis Obispo) and what you can expect from each.
While Morro Rock (576 feet /176 m) isn’t one of the hills to climb (it’s illegal), she’s the first of the series of sisters, anchoring a beautiful long stretch of beach where you’ll find otters, kelp beds, sand dollars and beauty everywhere you look. Rising up out of the Pacific, Morro Rock was designated as a California Historical Landmark in 1968
Within Morro Bay State Park, the second peak is Black Hill (665 feet / 203 m). This sister is the easiest hike (0.6 mi roundtrip) to reach a worthwhile vista, starting at the trailhead parking area in Morro Bay State Park just up from Morro Bay Golf Course. For a longer hike, you can park further down into the park and walk more of Black Hill Trail. This hike provides open views of Morro Bay and Morro Rock.
Those who summit Cerro Cabrillo (911 feet / 278 m), the highest point in Morro Bay State Park, are rewarded with a panoramic oceanfront view. This hike is more strenuous with some bouldering/rock climbing required toward the summit. Also beware of poison oak, especially after all this rain. Trailhead can be found on South Bay Boulevard, Morro Bay.
One of the highest sisters, Hollister Peak (1,404 feet / 428 m) offers views of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. Considered a ‘difficult’ hike, the trail is 1.5 miles with amazing views from the top. The trail starts out slow and gets hilly as you go. Hollister Peak sits on private property and is generally not accessible to the public. However the peak is open to the public to climb during certain holidays and to Indian tribes for certain ceremonies. Access trail from Turri Rd.
Cerro Romauldo (1,306 feet / 398 m), also known as West Cuesta Ridge, is a longer hike at nearly 7 miles along fire road trail with about 1200 ft elevation gain. Because it’s along the ridge, this vista offers 360 degree views of San Luis all the way out to the ocean. Trail is accessed from the parking area at the top of the Cuesta Grade on the southbound side of Highway 101.
Chumash Peak (1,257 feet / 383 m), named for the Chumash Indians who lived in the area, boasts a clear eastern view towards Cal Poly. The trail weaves along with Bishop Peak trail, the most convenient access located at the end of Highland Drive. Some of the land on this peak belongs to the National Guard base and much of the rest of it is on private ranch land. While an important part of the Central Coast landscape, this may not be the best choice for a day hike. Please be aware of the no trespassing signs and respect them for your security and our troops.
The highest of the sisters, Bishop Peak (1,559 feet / 475 m) is a popular summit offering a moderate 3.7 mi out and back trail for hiking, trail running, birding or just getting out into Central Coast beauty and wonder. The main trail is accessed on Patricia Dr. with a second access up the front side of the mountain off Foothill Dr. for a steeper faster climb.
Cerro San Luis
Possibly the most confusing of all the hills, Cerro San Luis (1,292 feet / 394 m) is also sometimes called Madonna Mountain, Mission Mountain, Mount San Luis or San Luis Mountain. Whatever name you use, enjoy this network of trails to the summit with spectacular views and steep terrain – great for hiking, running and biking. Some may be surprised to learn the large white “M” on the east face refers to Mission Prep High School and not Madonna Inn. Primary trail access is where Marsh Street ends at the 101, a trailhead also giving access to the Lemon Grove Loop. Much of the land including the land around the summit is owned by the Madonna family. All around a local favorite and cornerstone.
Last but not least, sister Islay Hill (775 feet / 236 m) offers a fast climb from one trailhead close to Tank Farm Rd. or another longer hike (1.8mi) from the back of the hill off Sweet Bay Lane. The majority of the latter path is a gradual easy climb through the final stretch of the trail, up a handful of steep switchbacks, rises quickly to the peak. For those who make it to this 360 degree vista of east San Luis Obispo county, you may be greeted by an adventurous participant in SLO Cow Parade (at least until May).
Visiting the sisters is a unique opportunity to enjoy and share the majestic Central Coast beauty, especially right now after these rains. At the end of the day when you’ve seen enough and you’re ready to rest, come to the SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel to soak ocean side in one of the three jacuzzis, put your weary feet up by the fireside terrace, and have a good night sleep in a most comfortable bed. Your adventure awaits. Come see your sisters.