The trail: Irish Hills Natural Reserve is conveniently located in the heart of San Luis Obispo. From Highway 101, take Exit 200 onto Los Osos Valley Road and continue west for 0.9 miles until you reach Madonna Road. Turn left and park at the end of the road, about 0.3 miles, near Devaul Park and Devaul Ranch Drive. There is a paved walkway from the street that leads to a map of Irish Hills Natural Reserve at the junction with King Trail.
Distance: This area covers 720 acres and contains more than eight miles of trails, which are friendly to hikers and mountain bikers. Given the warm temperatures in early October, I opted for the 1.1-mile King Trail, though the 2.9-mile Mariposa Trail also is accessible from Madonna Road.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. King Trail was designed by mountain bikers, so the lower portion of the loop is smooth with switchbacks and a few sections of exposure.
Tips: Depending on the time of day, a water bottle and sunscreen are both recommended. Much of the trail wraps through open grassland, where shade can be hard to come by.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed, but they must remain on leash.
Parking: If using the Madonna Road access point, street parking is the only option in a residential neighborhood. I had no trouble parking at the trailhead on a Sunday afternoon.
Description: The Irish Hills Natural Reserve, located about three miles from downtown San Luis Obispo, is a gold mine for local hikers. Many out-and-back loops are possible on mostly single-track trails, and they all appeared to be very well maintained. The diverse landscape features chaparral, oak and grasslands habitats, and the views overlooking San Luis Obispo are easy to access and offer a quick escape from the bustling city below. Despite the easy accessibility, there was no one else exploring King Trail in the 90 or so minutes I was there. The hike wasn’t particularly challenging and would make for a great after-work trek to unwind or another alternative for exercising the rambunctious pup in your life.