Standing astride a massive boulder atop Bishop Peak, I watch the turkey vultures fly past at eye level. As I watch them glide over the sage scrub carpeted slopes, I turn a slow pirouette to scan the horizon. From up here, you can see all the way to foggy Los Osos to the North, the bulk of downtown San Luis to the South, and a number of agricultural fields, ranches, parks and residential developments in between. It was worth fighting gravity for the 4-mile trek towards the summit of this rocky volcanic outcrop.
Timing my visit for late spring/early summer, I am lucky enough to be treated with moderately cool weather, a steady breeze, and a riot of wildflowers. Regardless of which of the two trail heads you choose, you are assured a moderate to challenging hike through several plant ecosystems. After traveling through this nature reserve’s oak forests, past giant rock faces, through sage brush and chaparral, and up a number of switchbacks, you will feel as though you have gotten your exercise and been rewarded with one of the best views in the county.
How to get there: There are two trail heads that access the Bishop Peak Trail. The first is off of Patricia Avenue and Highland amidst a residential neighborhood. This point also allows you to take the less strenuous Felsman Loop Trail, a fairly easy 1.7 mile loop at the North East base of this member of the “Seven Sisters”. The second approach is located on East Foothill Blvd. between Los Osos Valley Road and Patricia Ave., and has a small lot for parking near the beginning of the route.
What to bring: A majority of the trail is exposed to the elements, so during the warmer months, make sure to bring your sunscreen, glasses, hat, a pair of well-soled shoes, and plenty of water. For cooler weather, long pants and a fleece are most likely the heaviest protection you will need. For the top of the trail, bring a camera to capture the landscape unfolding before you, and maybe a snack to regain some energy before you head back down.
Stay safe: There are some steep and rocky parts along the trail, so make sure to watch your footing. There have been accidents at the top of the morro where the weather can become gusty. Try and stick to times where daylight is adequate enough to navigate some of the most challenging terrain, and if you are heading out during the evening, pack a flashlight just in case the journey takes you longer than expected. There is a fair amount of poison oak in some of the more wooded areas, and long slacks and healthy amount of attention and respect for the rash-inducing plant are recommended. (Remember: leaves of three, let it be! …unless it’s hairy, in which case it’s berry …but don’t take a chance with poisonous plants!) If you are unfamiliar with Bishop’s, take a buddy with you and always let others know where you are going to be and around what time they should expect you back.
This summer, go and take advantage of San Luis Obispo’s natural beauty and make a date for the top of Bishop Peak!