Summer hiking season has officially arrived.
And Rule No. 1 for hiking on warm days? Start bright and early.
Before the afternoon sun is beating down, enjoy the cooler mornings of coastal trails or a walk among the North County oaks.
Here are five of our favorite trails to start off the day. So, grab your water bottle and sunscreen and head on out.
And on those particularly hot days, avoid heat-related illnesses by limiting hiking in the afternoon, wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, and drinking plenty of water.
The trail: Valencia Peak in Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro is packed with beautiful trails, but the views from Valencia Peak are truly phenomenal. The Pacific Ocean is visible even before you reach the trailhead, and on a clear day from the summit, you can admire the beauty of Morro Rock and the sandspit.
Distance: 3.7 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate, with steep ascents and loose rock adding some increased difficulty as the hike progresses.
The trail: Harmony Headlands
This easy hike has a really big payoff after a walk through grasslands: panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. And keep an eye out for whales! The mornings can be particularly cool and foggy, so dress in layers. In addition to the stellar view and grasslands, you’ll encounter a corridor of thistle, rocky outcrops, a manmade pond and coastal scrub.
Distance: 4.5-mile lollipop loop; it’s about 1.5 to 2 miles from parking lot to Pacific Ocean view.
Difficulty: Easy and fairly flat. You’ll see 7-year-olds, 70-year-olds and moms with BOB strollers.
The trail: Irish Hills Natural Reserve
The Irish Hills Natural Reserve, about 3 miles from downtown San Luis Obispo, is a gold mine for local hikers. The diverse landscape features chaparral, oak and grasslands habitats, and views of the city. The trails are easy to access and offer a quick escape.
Distance: This area covers 720 acres and contains more than 8 miles of trails, which are friendly to hikers and mountain bikers.
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.
The trail: Salinas River Walk in Paso Robles
The Salinas River Walk is a flat, wheelchair-accessible hike along a stretch of the Salinas River in Paso Robles. Lines of oaks set the scene for this a simple and picturesque walk, with plenty of songbirds, chirping insects and wildflowers to stimulate the senses.
Distance: 2 miles from Lawrence Moore Park to Charolais Road.
The trail: Boucher Trail at Piedras Blancas
This leisurely stroll along the cliffs of Piedras Blancas is the perfect hike for anyone who wants to add a little something extra to their visit to the elephant seal rookery. And there are two lookout spots along the hike that offer great views of elephant seals without the (people) crowds at the main vista.
Distance: 3.8 miles out and back
Difficulty: Easy. As far as hikes go, this is as gentle as it gets. This hike provides grassy, wide, well-marked and well-maintained trails. It’s more about the views and wildlife than the workout.