The Trail: Avila Ridge Trail (also known as Ontario Ridge Trail). From San Luis Obispo, take Highway 101 south. Take exit 195 and park on El Portal Drive near Bluff Drive.
Distance: The main trail is a 3-mile loop with mostly loose gravel, but there are many different routes.
Difficulty: Moderately difficult with very steep sections followed by flat sections.
Tips: It’s probably best to try this trail during mid- to late afternoon when the skies are clear so the views are better. The cool ocean breeze ensures it never gets too hot.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed.
Parking: Along El Portal Drive or in the Pirate’s Cove parking lot.
Facilities: No facilities.
Description: Think of this hike like the interval setting on a stair climber at the gym: There are difficult steep sections that leave you out of breath followed by shaded flat sections. It adds up to a pretty challenging hike with some of the best views of the South County coastline. The version of the hike that begins near the Pirate’s Cove parking lot is very steep, so most people like to park along El Portal Drive and access the trail from the fire access road near Bonita Street. From there, head right and up the dusty gravel trail to the crest and make a left. A few steep sections later you will be about 700 feet above the Pacific Ocean next to the cellphone tower and have access to views that stretch from San Luis Bay and Avila Beach south to the Oceano Dunes and even up Highway 101 to Cerro San Luis Obispo. For a different version, try entering the trailhead near Sycamore Springs.