Night hiking in SLO is now legal — but the number of trails is limited

Hikers walk their dog Lady up Cerro San Luis in 2006. The city is considering a pilot program to allow night hiking and biking on the peak.
Hikers walk their dog Lady up Cerro San Luis in 2006. The city is considering a pilot program to allow night hiking and biking on the peak.

Want to hike and bike one of San Luis Obispo’s most popular peaks after dark? You can now apply for a night permit for Cerro San Luis, according to a city news release.

The permit period, which began Nov. 4 and runs until March, allows people to hike and bike Cerro San Luis, also known as San Luis Mountain, until 8:30 p.m. daily.

Hikers and bikers must obtain a permit for the day they plan to use the trails, normally open to the public from dawn to dusk, according to the city’s website. Up to 65 individuals can enjoy the peak’s trails each evening.

Rangers will be present checking permits and offering educational guidance for the public.

The Cerro San Luis trailhead is located on Fernandez Road at the end of Marsh Street just before the southbound Highway 101 on-ramp (the peak overlooks Madonna Inn).

The City Council voted 3-2 in January to approve a two-year pilot program allowing winter evening access on city-owned trails on Cerro San Luis, with council members Andy Pease and Carlyn Christianson dissenting.

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The idea behind the program is to allow people who get off work at around 5 p.m. to still be allowed to hike after it gets dark during the winter.

The city’s goal is to limit evening hiking to avoid disturbing nocturnal wildlife or creating potential safety hazards, such as fires, with later hours, according to past council discussions reported by The Tribune.

The city will study whether nighttime human presence affects the eating, nesting and habitation conditions of the animals.

Previously, open-space recreation was prohibited citywide, with use allowed between one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset, The Tribune reported in January.

Those hours of use remain in effect for trails such as Bishop Peak and Johnson Ranch, which are off limits to hiking after dark. Only Cerro San Luis is part of the city’s pilot program.

Go to www.slonighthikepermit.info for information on how to apply online for an evening hiking or biking permit.

A timelapse video featuring 152 photos by Cal Poly professor Brian Lawler is part of a new photography project featuring a year in the life of the San Luis Obispo mountain.

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