The trail: Cerro San Luis, or Madonna Mountain (the one with the big M). From downtown San Luis Obispo, follow Higuera Street south and take a right on Marsh Street. Pass under Highway 101 and turn right on Fernandez Lane find the parking area.
Distance: 4 miles roundtrip.
Difficulty: Hard, with a good amount of climbing in full sunlight.
Tips: Bring plenty of water, and apply sunblock before climbing.
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Parking: Park on Fernandez Lane at the foot of the trail.
Facilities: No restrooms, but there is a trash can at the start of the hike.
Description: Cerro San Luis is a strenuous uphill climb with stunning views of Laguna Lake, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo — and even the Pacific Ocean and Morro Rock on a clear day. Early in the hike, you can veer off to the right and add 1.5 miles to the hike by taking the Lemon Grove Loop Trail if you want. The main trail stays left, and on the west side of the mountain you’ll get views of Laguna Lake as well as the rest of the Nine Sisters and in the distance, Morro Rock. Be aware that runners use the trail frequently, and you’ll share the path with mountain bikers. You’ll see plenty of birds and lizards, and occasionally could stumble onto a snake sunning itself on the trail. Most of the trail is wide with a moderate grade, but it’s also largely unsheltered, so you’ll be in the sun for a good portion of it. Don’t forget to bring water and stay hydrated!