Bishop’s Peak is an iconic San Luis Obispo hike. The mountain is one of the nine sisters in San Luis Obispo County, Cerro San Luis (Mount Madonna) being another hike I previously wrote about doing sunrise yoga on with Poly Escapes last year.
Bishop’s Peak has a special place in my heart, because it’s the first hike I did (or attempted to do, other than the P) when I got to SLO my freshman year at Cal Poly. It was the second weekend of school, and I went with my new close friends Conner and Kyle. The only problem is that we had no idea where the trailhead was.
We walked from the Cal Poly dorm Santa Lucia to the highland trailhead in 95 degree weather and proceeded to hike where we thought the trail went (we were very wrong), taking a most likely illegal detour up the complete other side of the mountain. But we did make it to the top. Summiting Bishop’s by climbing up sheetrock and pushing through spiky bushes as Kyle’s spotify blasted “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” is one of the best experiences I’ve had in college so far…
Anyway, this post is so that you don’t make that same mistake, are informed about the hike beforehand, and take the actual trailhead so that it doesn’t take you seven hours like it took us.
Bishop’s peak is the tallest of the seven sisters, getting its name after its shape, resembling a bishop’s miter. The trail leads to a 1,500+ foot summit with a 950 foot elevation change and about a 3.5 mile distance round trip from the trailhead at Highland Drive.
Climbers also enjoy Bishop’s, because there are many rocks which have hooks to belay off of, at the base and at the summit. Here is a map of the rocks for climbing, via Mountainproject.com. On their website there are also difficulty ratings and climbing season recommendations.
The hike is moderately strenuous. It starts off in the woods at the base of the mountain where there is some shade, but the majority of the hike is in the open sun, so bring sunblock if you’re pale like me and get burned every time you’re outside. The trail winds up the backside of the mountain and is steep, using many zig zaggy switchbacks.
Be prepared to climb over clusters of smaller rocks as part of the trail (But that doesn’t mean you need to bring your climbing shoes like Kyle did that first time…). Be aware of your surroundings as well, because there are steep drops off the side of the trail.
When you reach the top, there will be a bench that says “end of trail.” Only it’s not really the end of the hike if you’re looking to summit. When you reach the bench, walk toward the rocks on the right, and climb them at your own risk to the true top to get panoramic views of San Luis Obispo’s fields, landmarks, and a full look at the Cal Poly campus.
Trailhead address: 1 Highland Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Trailhead coordinates: 35.301153, -120.68916 (35° 18′ 04.15″N 120° 41′ 20.97″W)
Below is an interactive map to the Highland trailhead.
Happy hiking! #AintNoMountainHighEnough