Distance: 10 miles (16.1 km) roundtrip
Elevation: 1500-2600 feet (450 - 790 meters)
Season: Year Round (avoid mid-day in summer).
Located just outside of San Luis Obispo is a ridgeline that offers spectacular views of Morro Bay and the Central California Coast, the hills and ridges of the San Luis Obispo area, the sand dunes of Pismo Beach and north into the Salinas River Valley. West Cuesta Ridge also offers an opportunity to hike through beautiful chapparal covered in purple ceonothus and into a rare Sargeant Cypress forest that contains remnant mature patches and regenerating areas from a recent fire on a green serpentine substrate.
Notice that ceonothus seems to like the shadier north slopes better than the hot south slopes!
The way to get to this trail is to take Highway 101 north out of San Luis Obispo. At the top of the Cuesta Pass, there is parking area on the left (westside). The highway here is a 3 lane divided highway, but there is a turn lane to get across. From here, a paved road heads steeply up the hill. You may be thinking, I am supposed to hike up a paved road?
Here you can see what remains of the "paved" road
Hiking through the regeneration zone
This cypress species has an interesting life history. It's cones are sealed by a thick resin and the seeds are trapped inside for years, even decades until there is a wildfire. Until a fire comes, there is no regeneration. But, once a fire vaporizes the resin, the cones open up and the seeds drop to the ground by the thousands. They immediately sprout on the ashes of their parents and form thick carpets of young cypress. They need direct sunlight, so they can not regenerate unless their parents are completely burned!
Young cypress rising from the ashes of their parents