Recognized by its distinctively pointy shape–left when softer rock pushed up by magma beneath earth eroded away–Bishop Peak is the tallest of the Nine Sisters, a range of volcanic features along the central coast. Its appearance has led to the misconception that it is named for its resemblance to a bishop’s miter; in fact, the summit is named for the city itself (“Obispo” is Spanish for bishop.) Bishop Peak might not be well known outside of the San Luis Obispo area, but with panoramic views, impressive live oaks, geology and even a small seasonal pond, the hike from Patricia Drive to the top of the trail is worth driving some distance to experience. L.A. hikers interested in exploring the Central Coast will find Bishop Peak to hold up well against the best that the Santa Monica Mountains and the Angeles National Forest have to offer. You won’t have much solitude here; Bishop’s proximity to Cal Poly makes it a big draw for students and other area residents, but with nonstop eye candy from start to finish, the trail is a fun one to share.
There are several possible routes, especially when combined with forays into the adjacent Ferrini Ranch Open Space. Signage is usually pretty good and the park’s popularity means that should you become uncertain of directions, it won’t be hard to find someone to point you the right way. The hike from Patricia Drive is relatively short but challenging, maintaining an average grade of more than 600 feet of ascent per mile. Begin with a steady ascent along an oak-dotted hillside to a Y-junction (0.2 mile.) Bear left and make a few switchbacks, climbing the base of Bishop Peak’s west slope, enjoying views of the town below. In another 0.2 mile you reach a junction by a seasonal pond. The slightly longer left fork around the pond passes through an attractive bunch of live oaks (if you take this route, note the trail coming up from Highland Drive to the south; if you walk around the pond the other way, ignore the trail heading toward Ferrini Ranch). The trails merge on the south side of the pond and you then begin a steep climb to another intersection (0.6 mile). Turn left and enter a thick woodland of more live oaks. Rock climbers use this area to start their ascent up Bishop Peak’s west face.
You descend gradually, heading south then curving to the west. One mile from the start, you make a hairpin right turn and begin an ascent along Bishop Peak’s south slope. Enjoying the views of Cerro San Luis towering above the coastal plains, with a sliver of the ocean in the distance, you begin the ascent to the summit. The trail switchbacks tightly up the peak, often over rocks, finally topping out 1.8 miles from the start. Two benches allow you to enjoy a well-earned view. This is the end of the official trail but hikers who have skill in climbing rocks can make an attempt, at their own risk, to reach the true high point. (This is not an option for hikers with dogs or small kids.) A large jumble of boulders dominates the north end of the summit while the true high point is slightly south, requiring a riskier climb. These high points mean that a true 360-degree view is not possible from the end of the trail, but the benches still offer an impressive panorama to the north and the south for those who don’t want to chance it.
Text and photography copyright 2016 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.