10 dog-friendly hikes in SLO County

Brian and Jen Nix and their dogs Monty and Ella take a morning hike along the Felsman Loop trail at Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo in 2013.
Brian and Jen Nix and their dogs Monty and Ella take a morning hike along the Felsman Loop trail at Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo in 2013. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

From beaches to parks to hiking trails, San Luis Obispo County has plenty of spots where dogs can enjoy a hike with their best friends.

Here’s a list of popular Central Coast trails that are dog-friendly, provided they’re on a leash.

Click the links to find directions to each hike, as well as parking information, facilities, tips and more detailed descriptions.

(1) The trail: Black Hill, Morro Bay

One of nine volcanic plugs known as the “Nine Sisters,” this hike is perfect for a nice stroll that isn’t too strenuous or time-consuming. The climb is gradual with switchbacks. The hill offers views of the estuary, Morro Rock, Irish Hills and Cerro Cabrillo.

Distance: 0.6 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: This short hiking trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, providing you and your canine companion and easy getaway from the everyday routine.

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Black Hill, one of the "Nine Sisters," offers views of Morro Bay National Estuary, Morro Rock, Irish Hills and Cerro Cabrillo in San Luis Obispo County.

(2) The trail: Eucs trail in Stenner Creek, SLO

The beginning of the trail runs parallel to the shallow, lightly flowing creek, until the path meets the railroad. When you pass the tracks, you might get lucky and see a train winding through the canyon. After this, it’s a winding uphill trail with several wooden bridges over steep parts of the creek.

Distance: 4.5 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: Canines are allowed, but smaller dogs might have a harder time when the trail gets steep in short bursts toward the top. Medium and bigger dogs will love all the hike’s new smells and its wooden bridges.

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eucs trail
A view from the Stenner Creek trail. Cerro Romauldo, one of the Seven Sisters, can be seen in the distance. Jayden Norris jnorris@thetribunenews.com

(3) The trail: Hang Glider Hill, Cayucos

This popular hang glider launch area offers sweeping views overlooking the Pacific Ocean from Cayucos to Morro Bay. Easy to access on foot or with an off-road vehicle, Hang Glider Hill allows visitors to watch hang gliders take off and descend the hillside effortlessly. Watching the sunset here makes the relatively steep climb worth it.

Distance: 1 mile out and back with 359 feet of elevation gain

Why it’s good for dogs: This trail is smooth and well-maintained, and dogs of all sizes can make it to the summit. There’s even a small grass field toward the top.

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SLO County Hike of the Week: Hang Glider Hill in Cayucos. This easy-to-access hike offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean from Cayucos to Morro Bay.

(4) The trail: Cerro San Luis, SLO

Cerro San Luis is a semi-strenuous uphill climb with stunning views of Laguna Lake, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo — and even the Pacific Ocean and Morro Rock on a clear day. Most of the trail is wide with a moderate grade, but it’s also largely unsheltered, so you’ll be in the sun for a good portion of it. Don’t forget to bring water and stay hydrated.

Distance: 4.0 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: This one isn’t for the faint-hearted. If your dog is healthy and well-exercised, Cerro San Luis offers some of the best views in the county. Beware: You’ll likely be sharing the path with runners and mountain bikers. Bring extra water for your dog.

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Here's a look at some of the sights and sounds while hiking Cerro San Luis in San Luis Obispo, California.

(5) The trail: Sycamore Crest Trail, Avila Beach

This short out-and-back hike winds up the northern slope of Ontario Hill. Most of the hike cuts through beautiful oak groves and lush vegetation. The switchback journey up the hill can be steep at times. When you reach the top, you’re awarded with sweeping views of Avila Beach and Port San Luis to the northwest and Pismo Beach and the Oceano Dunes to the southwest.

Distance: 1.5 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: This wide trail covers mostly even terrain, and the biggest challenge is the incline on the way up. The Sycamore Crest Trail will lead you to some unbeatable views of the sunset, so this is a great after-work hike for you and an adventure for your dog who’s been cooped up all day.

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The Sycamore Crest Trail off Avila Beach Drive in Avila Beach is an out-and-back hike that winds up the northern slope of Ontario Hill. Most of the hike cuts through beautiful oak groves and lush vegetation.

(6) The trail: Bishop Peak, SLO

This is probably the most popular trail in San Luis Obispo, and for good reason. The variety of accessible trails make it a must-see for sweeping views of Cerro San Luis, Laguna Lake and a big chunk of San Luis Obispo County.

Distance: 3.5 miles round trip from the trailhead at Highland Drive

Why it’s good for dogs: Again, not for the faint of heart. But, aside from the Foothill Boulevard entrance, which is an 8 on a difficulty scale of 1-10, most routes are manageable. Bonus: There’s a dog water bowl chained to the bench at the summit.

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View from Bishop Peak in the spring looking out at Cerro San Luis (right) and San Luis Obispo. Travis Gibson tgibson@thetribunenews.com

(7) The trail: Islay Hill Open Space, SLO

The panorama of this largely untouched valley is breathtaking, as is the view of Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak to the northwest. The first 80 percent of the hike is not taxing, and there’s next to no elevation gain aside from a quick back-and-forth incline about three minutes into the hike. The last stretch of the trail, however, has four or five switchbacks that rise quickly and are much steeper until you reach the peak.

Distance: 1.8 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: Islay Hill Open Space offers an easy-going option all dogs can enjoy. One added bonus for your four-legged friends: There are leashes hanging from the signs at the beginning of the trail that you can borrow for your pooch.

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A Christmas Eve storm cast a rainbow behind Islay Hill in San Luis Obispo. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

(8) The trail: Johnson Ranch Open Space, south of SLO

Conveniently located just off Highway 101 between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, the Johnson Ranch Open Space offers a peaceful getaway that doesn’t require much preparation. While the panoramic views don’t compare to Bishop Peak or Cerro Alto, the Johnson Ranch Open Space provides a visually pleasing destination for an after-work hike with your pup.

Distance: 3.7 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: With only about 200 feet of elevation gain, this short hike rates as one of the easier treks in San Luis Obispo County. Dogs are allowed, and are quite popular on this trail, but they must remain on a leash.

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Open Space 2
The Johnson Ranch Open Space in San Luis Obispo. Jayson Mellom The Tribune

(9) The trail: Reservoir Canyon, SLO

Toward the end of this challenging hike, you’ll reach the ridge line, which tops out at an elevation of 1,715 feet and offers 360-degree views of San Luis Obispo, the Cuesta Grade and the coast in the distance. From here, you can follow the trail in either direction along the ridge or just collapse in exhaustion and enjoy the view all the way to the ocean.

Distance: 5.35 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: The first half of the hike is level and easy. The second half varies between moderate and difficult as you head up the back of the hill into a series of switchbacks and false summits. But the payoff is worth it: A field of grass awaits you and your dog at the top.

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The Reservoir Canyon Trail is a 5.35-mile hike from the base of the Cuesta Grade to the top of a ridge overlooking San Luis Obispo.

(10) The trail: Serenity Swing in Poly Canyon, SLO

There isn’t a lot of shade available, so we recommend exploring this trail during a cooler time of day. The hike is particularly gorgeous in the spring when the hills are green and offers views of the Cuesta Grade and Cerro Romauldo to the north. Be careful coming down — the hill is dry and crumbly in late summer and early fall.

Distance: About 4 miles round trip

Why it’s good for dogs: With plenty of open space and wide trails, you and your pup can enjoy a hike that’s easy and mostly flat. The latter half has some steep, strenuous stretches, but the final view is worth your effort.

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Serenity Swing
A view of the Serenity Swing hike in Poly Canyon. Scott Middlecamp smiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com