The hike: Hi Mountain Trail. From San Luis Obispo, head south on Orcutt Road for 8 miles. Then turn left and follow Hi Mountain Road past Lopez Lake for 10 miles. A faded sign and a large gravel pullout marks the trailhead on the left side of the road, across the street from 1840 Hi Mountain Road. It’s also easily accessible from Arroyo Grande via Lopez Drive.
Distance: About 3 miles.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. It starts off on a gradual incline, but there are steep sections with areas of the trail marked by loose dirt and rocks.
Tips: A hiking pole could be useful on the steeper sections. Bring water, as there is none available on the trail. A lot of the trail is shaded, but you’ll probably want to bring sunscreen or a hat regardless. Toward the top, the trail cuts through grassy meadow, which when I did the hike was overgrown and laying across the trail, so long pants would have been nice. I also spotted plenty of poison oak, so be on the lookout. It’s maintained by San Luis Obispo County, though I ran into a nearby resident removing a downed log who said it’s mostly kept up by locals who frequently use it for horseback riding.
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Dogs: Allowed on a leash.
Description: The trail starts by splitting a privately owned pasture, with a handful of horses and inquisitive goats there to great you. It soon ducks into the forest and winds slightly uphill along a dried stream bed. The fall colors and the leaves on the ground when I did the hike make it especially pleasing for the time of year. After 0.6 miles, the trail splits, with one half heading straight onto a private trail operated by Ranchita Estates and the public half breaking off along the side of the hill. The climb steepens here and turns rocky. It also opens up after about 300 feet, providing panoramic views of Saucelito Canyon to the southwest and the ranchland along Hi Mountain Road. Continue the rest of the way up the hill to the peak. From the top, the views of Big Baldy and other oak-covered ridges to the west are especially dramatic. You can easily stop here or drop down the other side of the hill, using some steep switchbacks, to the Ranchita Trailhead — which also has a parking area, offering an alternate starting point. It’s a quick hike, and very scenic and peaceful.