The hike: Islay Hill Open Space. From downtown San Luis Obispo, head south on Johnson Avenue for about a mile, continue onto Orcutt Road for another mile. Turn right onto Spanish Oaks Drive, where you will find the trailhead after about 0.4 miles.
Distance: 1.8 miles.
Difficulty: If you take the Sweet Bay Lane trail, it’s easy to moderate. The first 80 percent of the hike is hardly taxing at all, and there’s next to no elevation gain aside from a quick back-and-forth incline about three minutes into the hike. The last stretch of the trail, however, has four or five switchbacks that rise quickly and are much steeper until you reach the peak.
Tips: Definitely bring some water for this hike (as there’s little to no shade), but no snacks or gear are necessary. The trail is very narrow for most of the hike, and bicycles aren’t allowed.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on a leash, and there are leashes hanging from the signs at the beginning of the trail that you can borrow for your pooch.
Description: There are three places you can start. The most common trail — and the one I took — starts at the top of Sweet Bay Lane in the Arbors. You can also start near 4463 Spanish Oaks Drive or 1621 Huckleberry Lane, but those trails are much shorter and a lot steeper.
When you start on Sweet Bay Lane, you’ll have to walk around a locked gate, then cross a very short footbridge to see a newly built fence and trailhead sign. Open the swinging push-gate, and you’re on the trail! There’s a little bit of back and forth until you get over the first little foothill, then you’ll find yourself at the corner of a wide valley.
To the southwest you’ll be able to see the train tracks stretch off into the many vineyards of Edna Valley. The trail gradually wraps around the valley up to a large “dent” in the mountainside. The trail gets a little rocky here. After that, the trail meets up with where the other two trailheads lead, and it’s all uphill from there.
After winding up some steeper parts, you’ll be at the top. Hang in there until you reach a large wooden post at the top. The panorama of this largely untouched valley is breathtaking, as is the view of Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak to the northwest.