SLO County Hike of the Week: Rinconada Trail a challenging climb to great views

A view from the Rinconada Trail.
A view from the Rinconada Trail. ditel@thetribunenews.com

The trail: Rinconada Trail. From San Luis Obispo, travel north on Highway 101 about 8 miles, take exit 211 toward Santa Margarita, travel 1.7 miles, turn right on Highway 58 and continue straight onto West Pozo Road for about 12 miles. Signs will guide you to the trailhead at the end of a short gravel road on the west side of the highway.

Distance: About 4 miles roundtrip.

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult. The trail starts with dramatic inclines and rocky trails but gradually tapers in the second mile and turns into meandering dirt pathways and gravel roads.

Tips: There’s no access to water anywhere on the trail, so you’ll want to bring your own. Protection from the sun, especially in the remaining summer months, is a must. A hiking pole may be useful on some of the more difficult portions of the trail.

Dogs: Allowed on a leash.

Parking: Plenty of parking in a gravel lot at the trailhead.

Facilities: None.

Description: The main trail starts from the east end of the parking lot, although you can also take a short jaunt from the west side of the lot to an abandoned mine and mercury processing facility. I skipped this part and went straight to the trail, which starts off with rocky singletrack that cuts up the north slope of Bell Mountain. The first half mile is marked by grassy meadows and oak groves. As you make your way up the slope, the trail opens up through high chaparral, allowing you to take in views of rocky outcrops to the southwest and the expanse of the Pozo Valley to the north. The trail occasionally intersects with abandoned access roads, but signs point you in the right direction. As you approach the peak, you’ll come to a cattle gate as the trail turns to the south and the runs along the east ridge of the crest. Grassy clearings and majestic oaks mark this portion of the trail, along with views to the west — a perfect place to find a shady spot under an oak for a picnic or quick rest to enjoy the cool ocean breeze at the top of the hill. Continue on to the south to the end of the trail, which connects with High Mountain Road at the 2-mile mark where you can connect with the Little Falls and Big Falls trails.