SLO County Hike of the Week: Rocky Canyon a rugged and rocky trek in North County

Take a virtual hike along Rocky Canyon Trail

Highlights from the Rocky Canyon Trail just outside of Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County.
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Highlights from the Rocky Canyon Trail just outside of Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County.

The trail: Rocky Canyon. From San Luis Obispo, take Highway 101 north 12 miles to the Santa Barbara Road exit just south of downtown Atascadero. Go right on Santa Barbara road and travel 0.5 miles, turn left on Viejo Camino and then take the first left onto Halcon Road. Travel a little more than a mile to the parking area at the intersection of Halcon and Rocky Canyon roads. After parking, walk another mile up Rocky Canyon Road until you reach the active Schlegel Sand & Gravel quarry; there is no parking at the actual trailhead. The trail winds through the quarry for the first half mile or so.

Distance: Approximately 4 miles, nearly 6 if you count the walk along Rocky Canyon Road to reach the trail.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. There are some steep inclines and rocky, uneven terrain.

Tips: As always, bring water and sun protection. Bright clothing might not be a bad idea for the walk along Rocky Canyon Road, on which dump trucks frequent.

Dogs: Allowed on a leash.

Parking: There is no parking at the trailhead; I discovered this thanks to a friendly quarry employee. You must park at the intersection of Halcon and Rocky Canyon roads, where there is an open dirt area and plenty of space.

Facilities: None.

Description: This is an interesting hike. As indicated above, you must first walk a mile along the access road to a rock quarry to reach the trailhead. And then you must navigate your way through the bustling rock quarry and all of its clanging equipment. This fact may turn off some from this hike. But have faith, the noise soon fades away as you make your way up the winding Rocky Canyon.

For those who stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with views of craggy cliff faces and lush and diverse vegetation, different from many of the drier, more desert-like landscapes you’ll find in much of the North County. It’s an out-and-back hike, but one could presumably park a second car at the east end of the trail, where it meets up again with Rocky Canyon Road, for transportation back down. This surely is the strategy of mountain bikers, who also utilize the trail, looking for a downhill-only ride. Once you reach the top of the hill, the trail opens up a bit for expansive views of the surrounding terrain, which offers everything from grassy horse pastures to rocky outcroppings and the Santa Lucia range off in the distance to the west.

As with a number of SLO County hikes, Rocky Canyon is great for trail running. Its off-the-beaten path location, coupled with the unique beginning, also presumably keeps the crowds away. I was greeted only by two other hikers and their dog — if you don’t count heavy equipment operators.

Editor’s note: After a winter hiatus, The Tribune sports section is bringing back Hike of the Week for the coming spring, summer and fall months. At the beginning of the week, look for new hike profiles at sanluisobispo.com/sports/outdoors, where you can also find a list of all of 2016’s Hikes of the Week, and in Tuesday’s Sports section. If you’d like to see a hike featured, email sports editor Dan Itel at ditel@thetribunenews.com.