K and I took a glorious early summer trip to France: half in the Alps and half on the shores of the Mediterranean.
We hiked up snowy mountains, descended cliffs into turquoise waters, made unfamiliar dishes like poulet noir in unfamiliar convection ovens, and lived the high life watching the sun set over Marseille. We also shared a baguette and a pain au chocolat every day with our “expresso.” First things first.
Our trip took us to Paris, Chamonix, Nice, La Ciotat, and Marseille. We went with a budget, taking only a small backpack each and cooking most of our meals. I even got to refresh my manual driving skills! Hello, tiny alleys with many cars! My personal favorite? Les îles du Frioul, a short ferry from Marseille, with many beautiful inlets (calanques) for swimming in the teal limestone waters. Just beware the seagulls.
Given that there are so many shorter trails in San Luis Obispo, I thought it would be a great idea to have a local adventure linking multiple trails! I booked a campsite in Montaña de Oro for me and K, and then we started our micro-adventure bright and early after campsite coffee.
The first, shown above, is the view from Valencia Peak, 1,347 feet. The trail is 4.5 miles R/T with oh-so-lovely ocean. And poppies!
Also from Valencia Peak. You can see all the trails of MDO snaking around. This looks out on Morro Bay.
Next on the list was Black Hill, which is one of the morros! It’s just 661 feet and has a 0.6-mile R/T trail. A great spot for PB&J!
View of Morro Rock from Black Hill!
Looking back from whence we came! View of Montaña de Oro from Black Hill.
Finally, we hit Cerro Alto, an awesome 4.7-mile R/T trail. Unfortunately, this site now charges $10 for parking, so we may not hit it again in the near future. It’s too bad, since this trail is beautiful! The peak is at 2,624 feet, so almost double our first spot, Valencia Peak!
We love the fog rolling in to the valleys… a common occurrence in this area!
Bishop Peak is the quintessential SLO hike. It’s the highest of the morros at 1,559 feet, and the trail is 3.7 miles out and back. A quick jaunt! There’s a less official steep back way up too–for some extra ooomph.
At the very top are great big boulders to scramble up for the best views. It can be windy!
John Muir had this to say on the subject:
The trail brings the traveler suddenly in sight of Bishop Peak… The town is fairly encircled with beautiful hills…the one just named being most conspicuous.
Wow, what a review! Haha. A nice claim to fame nonetheless.
It surely is nice and green in these photos – definitely a winter thing! This is in January 2016.
This is a surprisingly lush hike in Los Padres National Forest, near Santy B! It goes up the backside (north side, non-ocean side) of the Santa Ynez Mountains and looks down on Lake Cachuma. The trail is about 8 miles out and back, gaining 2,300 feet.
Whereas most trails on the Central Coast are dry and sandy/rocky, this one has MUD!
At one point (pictured below), we felt like we could be hiking in Hawaii!
At the top, you can see the Channel Islands:
There’s a peak a little further up (Broadcast Peak, so named for a bunch of radio towers), and as K and I were enjoying our view at our summit, a motor bike appeared and sped up Broadcast. Too disruptive for our tastes :) Other than that, we didn’t see much of anyone along the trail. Made for a nice humid hiking escape!
One of the coolest things about SLO is the morros! Morros are volcanic plugs, essentially the tough necks of old volcanoes that remain when the rest of the volcano erodes away. Islay Hill is one of the morros K and I hit up all the time! It rises to 780′ and is a quick mile to the top.
You can actually make this a loop trail! With the bottom portion heading down through a park and bike path. Both sides have beautiful views of rolling hills.
It looks pretty green here, but this is January 2016. The colors change dramatically as the seasons pass on the Central Coast.
Baldy sits [presides] at 10,064 feet. It’s the highest point in LA County, and the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s also within Angeles National Forest.
At the summit
K and I met up from our northern and southern residences [now swapped] to hike this awesome mountain together in November 2015. I’m pretty sure we did the Mount Baldy loop trail amounting to 11.3 miles round trip, but there are many different paths you can take. I know we passed under a ski lift and felt super proud that we were using our legs to power us up the incline! If you take the ski lift, the total round trip to the summit is 6.6 miles.
On the Backbone
One of the coolest parts of the trail is the DEVIL’S BACKBONE, a narrow section of ridgeline that’s super-steep on either side. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ground [pretty overwhelming!], and I wouldn’t want to hike this with any snow. So sheer!
Looking down on the Devil’s Backbone
Our way down the mountain was full of epic granite…
After hitting up Knapp’s Castle for sunrise, I would head just down the road to the trailhead for Fremont Ridge and 2 miles out, 2 miles back. As I went along downhill, the trail kept going…and going… I was the only person on that trail that day, and I now suspect that I made a wrong turn along the way. This “trail,” mostly an unmarked fire road, provides great views of the green 154 bridge, aka the Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge. It’s the highest arch bridge in CA, and one of the highest in the USA, at 400ft above the canyon (thank you, Wikipedia). You can also see (barely) Lake Cachuma (a reservoir) in the above photo, that blue spot to the right of the mountains.I eventually decided that I had to turn around and head back uphill! I was glad to get back to the car and rewarded with this view of Santy B:
Inspiration Point is a nice little 3.75-mile hike (via the Tunnel Trail) in the Santa Ynez Mountains of Santy B. On clear days (most days), you can see the Channel Islands as you look to the south.
The viewpoint (of inspiration!) is at 1,800 feet, and the trail gains a total of 800 as you go along.
It’s a very popular hike, so it can be a little congested (with music-blasting types :O), but not so much if it threatens to rain. After heavy rains, there’s plenty of evidence of micro mudslides and rockslides, particularly at the sandstone walls.
There are connector trails along the way to an area called Seven Falls, but it was so devastatingly dry while I was there that there were definitely no falls.
Gaviota Peak is awesomely situated among juxtaposed mountains and ocean, about a 20 minute’s drive from where I used to live in Santy B. The turnoff for it is right near the famous Gaviota tunnel, featured in the The Graduate.
I have driven through this tunnel many times, always appreciating the characteristic bare rocky peaks of Santa Barbara County.
The trail heads up the north side with views of sloping hills and agriculture, and loops back down through rocky mountains and ocean views.
The color of the hills changes drastically with the seasons. The hills are pretty brown here in October, but in Spring they turn bright green after the rains. And yellow with mustard!
The trail is about a 6-mile loop and also features wind caves! A stop in Solvang for pastries makes for a perfect weekend morning expedition.
If you are super adventurous, there are reportedly hot springs near the trailhead, though I haven’t checked them out!
The grad school gang got back together again for some camping, hiking, and hot springs fun in October 2015. There were some cold nights and some pretty sad views of the drought impacts on Huntington Lake, but warm and sunny times with friends. The lake is nestled in the Sierra National Forest, south of the Kaiser Wilderness.
Looking south towards the eastern edge of Huntington Lake
Matching our autumnal experience of the bare lake bed
We hiked up to College Rock on the north side of the lake, about a 5 mile R/T. The rock took some tricky scrambles to get up to, and it sure was windy at the top! We could see some storms hit the other peaks and a bit of snow, so we booked it downhill after that.
Hiking to College Rock
Not pictured: a dreamy evening stroll around the dry lake bed, attempts to cross little rivulets using wood and rocks, trekking to Mono Hot Springs for some warm baths (with little red worms), boys skipping rocks and spending much time trying to jump and balance on a tall tree stump :)