SLO County Hike of the Week: Bishop Peak

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

The trail: Versatility is perhaps the best characteristic about the different trails surrounding Bishop Peak, the tallest of the Nine Sisters. There are four different places to begin your hike. Two of them are well-marked trailheads. We recommend the official entrance on Patricia Drive near Anacapa Circle or the entrance at the end of Highland Drive.

Distance: The 1,546-foot summit of the 20-million-year-old rock is a 3.5 mile round trip from the trailhead at Highland Drive. If you keep up a good walking pace, it should take you about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to complete. If you are looking for a shorter and easier hike without less-spectacular views, check out the Felsman Loop Trail, which traverses 2.7 miles in and out of the Ferrini Ranch Open Space. Just enter at Patricia Drive and follow the signs. (See map below.)

Difficulty: Aside from the Foothill Boulevard entrance, which is an 8 on a difficulty scale of 1-10, most routes aren’t bad. I’d give it a 5 overall, which is part of the reason why this trail is so popular.

Tips: You can probably leave the trekking poles at home as the gradual inclines, switchbacks and well-kept trails of Bishop Peak make it pretty tame. Water is a must, of course, but if you get too hot there are plenty of rocks under the shade of the oak trees that are perfect for relaxing with water and a snack. Once you get to the summit, there is a way to get to large rocks to the right of the benches for better views, but try it at your own risk.

Dogs: The trail is dog-friendly as long as they remain on a leash. There’s even a doggie water bowl chained to the bench at the summit.

Parking: Both the Patricia Drive and Highland Drive trailhead entrances have free, on-street parking readily available, though Patricia Drive is probably a better weekend choice. The entrances on Foothill Boulevard (near Community Baptist Church) and at the end of Bridle Ridge Trail are also possible but not recommended.

Facilities: Outside of a few benches, there are no facilities.

Description: 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. The trail begins its ascent on the mountain’s tree-shaded north side with views of the Cal Poly campus, then winds around to the rocky, exposed south face, where hikers negotiate a series of dusty switchbacks to reach the summit with arguably the best view of the city. Bishop Peak is also a popular rock-climbing destination with several permitted rock-climbing walls about a quarter of the way up.