Posted by: GeekHiker | September 18, 2013

HIKE: Islay Hill

[Been a while since I’ve written one of these…]

I’ve done a number of hikes since I’ve arrived here on the Central Coast, but I’m just getting back into the swing of actually writing about them.  Islay Hill, a short, somewhat out-of-the-way climb, seems like a good place to start.

Islay Hill is actually the last in the chain of morros in the area.  The morros are a line of ancient volcanic peaks, nine in total, that start at the more famous Morro Rock at Morro Bay along the coast and stretch all the way inland to just south of the city of San Luis Obispo.  Among the more popular morro climbs are Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis, both of which are close to town and both of which, I’m sure, I’ll write up soon enough.

Islay Hill is located in a city-owned open space at the south end of San Luis Obispo, next to a quiet residential neighborhood.  After parking at the trailhead, walk around the locked gate and start up the road to a small wooded bridge crossing over the concrete culvert.  Past the culvert, the trail continues uphill, making long loping switchbacks towards the base of the peak.

Islay Hill 01
Starting up the trail, our goal clearly in sight.

Islay Hill 02
A late-season California poppy in bloom.

As the trail turns north, be sure to look out for the large oak tree and the small trail leading under it.  With branches that dip all the way to the ground on every side, the tree looks like a huge house-sized bush.  Walking underneath reveals a cool, peaceful sun-dappled glen.

Islay Hill 05
The old oak, as seen from the side of the trail…

Islay Hill 03
…and the twisted trunk and spreading canopy from underneath

Returning to the trail, continue around the north side of the peak, reaching a y-intersection.  The trail to the left descends to another part of the housing development.  Your path continues right, the trail now braced with logs along the left side.  Steeper now, the trail continues up a few more switchbacks to arrive at the top of the peak.

Islay Hill 04
Trail curving into the shaded north side of Islay Hill.

From the top, your view encompasses the Santa Lucia range to the east, with the city of San Luis Obispo (and Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis) to the north.  To the south, green vineyards stretch into the distance, and to the west lie the coastal hills and the small San Luis Obispo airport.  If the peak isn’t quite high enough for your liking, there’s even an 8-foot pole, smelling deeply of creosote, available to climb.

Islay Hill Panoramic 01
Panoramic view from the top of Islay Hill

Return by the same route.

Total Distance: 1.8 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: ~500’/500′

Hike Profile:
Islay Hill Profile


Directions: From U.S. 101 south of San Luis Obispo, exit at Madonna Road, and turn right onto Madonna Road. Turn left from Madonna onto Higuera St., then immediately right onto South Street. Drive .8 miles on South St., then turn right onto Broad Street. Drive 1.7 miles south on Broad Street and turn left at Tank Farm Rd. After driving 1 mile on Tank Farm Road, turn right onto Wavertree St. Follow Wavertree all the way to its end, then turn left onto Spanish Oaks Drive and then immediately right on to Sweet Bay Lane. Park at the end of Sweet Bay Lane, being careful not to block residents driveways.

Fee: none (as of this writing)




  1. This is great! I love the views and that gnarly tree is illustration gold. Thanks for sharing your hike with us!

  2. I had no idea that’s what “morro” meant. I’m very excited to read your hiking posts again! Especially since they’re in my ‘hood.

  3. This is compelling me to take a trip slightly northwards to explore that area.

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