Hiking the East Cuesta Ridge and Mount Lowe trail in San Luis Obispo
The trail: East Cuesta Ridge/Mount Lowe trail. From San Luis Obispo, head north on Highway 101 for a little more than 5 miles. The trailhead is on the northbound side of the highway at the top of the Cuesta Grade.
Distance: Approximately 6 miles out and back to the summit of Mount Lowe.
Difficulty: Easy to hard. The separate trail up the last section of Mount Lowe is a steep, single-track switchback with plenty of downed logs and loose gravel to navigate. The bulk of the trail is on Mount Lowe Road.
Tips: This hike can vary depending on how difficult or long you want to make it. The Mount Lowe portion is simply a gravel road that winds gradually up Cuesta Ridge, so aside from wearing comfortable shoes and bringing water and a snack, you won’t need any special gear. You may want to bring trekking poles and hiking shoes for the separate trail the top of Mount Lowe.
Parking: Park along Highway 101 in an expanded shoulder area or along Mount Lowe Road before the gate.
Description: Walk past the gate at the beginning of Mount Lowe Road and begin gradually climbing up Cuesta Ridge. The noise from Highway 101 quickly fades away and is replaced by expansive views into San Luis Obispo to the south — and on a clear day, all the way to Morro Bay and the Oceano Dunes.
The trail winds through peaceful oak groves for the first couple of miles. As you get higher, the oaks give way to pine trees, more rocky surroundings and even better views. About 3 miles into the hike, you’ll notice a single-track trail that veers off the road, headed to the top of Mount Lowe. If you choose to do this section, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views and about 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the start of the hike.
You also can connect with the Lopez Canyon trail at about 4 miles into the hike for a gateway into the Los Padres National Forest.