Bishop Peak

Distance: 4.5 miles round-trip

Time:  3 hours

Highlights: Bishop Peak is the tallest of the Nine Sisters, a volcanic range that extends from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo.  The range is made up of volcanic “plugs” that formed 20-25 million years ago

Similarities/Differences: You won’t find fossils buried in the igneous rocks along this hike, but the feeling of climbing an ancient volcanic core is something you can’t experience at Rancho Alegre.  Climbing Bishop Peak is like scaling Fossil Hill ten times in a row, but the hiking distance is over twice as long, making for a much gentler hike.

Elevation Gain:  950 feet

Difficulty:  Moderate

Trailhead:  From downtown San Luis Obispo, take Foothill Boulevard west and make a right onto Patricia Drive.  Continue 0.3 miles north on Patricia Drive and make a left onto Highland Drive.  Highland Drive ends at the Bishop Peak trailhead.

If no parking is available at the end of Highland Drive, a second popular trailhead can be found on Patricia Drive.  Drive 0.4 miles further past the Highland Drive turnoff to the signed trailhead on the left.  This route requires an extra 250 feet of elevation gain, and it connects with the other trail at the cattle pond junction.

Credit: Photos provided courtesy of

Joe Christianson.

Directions: The trail follows a fenceline through an oak forest, then merges with the path from the lower trailhead at a cattle pond.  The trail continues straight and winds up a grassy hillside to a low ridge.  Follow the ridge until the trail passes through a pedestrian gate and bears left, passing a junction with the Felsman Loop Trail. 

The trail then crosses an open field and enters another oak forest.  In a short distance the trail comes to a fork by Crack-Wall - an area heavily used by climbers.  The left fork, our trail, passes through another pedestrian gate, then traverses an oak woodland before reaching the quarry. 

After a quick 30-foot descent, the trail climbs three switchbacks before leveling out and reaching the Old Foothill Boulevard Trail.  The Madonna family own the lower portions of the land, and technically you are trespassing if you access Bishop Peak up this trail.

The path continues around the peak and begins to ascend once again.  Eight switchbacks zig-zag up the mountain, passing beautiful rock formations to reach the saddle of Bishop Peak’s summit, which is broken into three pinnacles like the corners of a bishop’s miter.  From here, the trails are not maintained.  The rock to the right is the easiest to climb, but use great caution!  The north-facing slopes are steep, unstable and full of poison oak. 

If you reach the top, take time to marvel at the panoramic views.  Bishop Peak and the other morros are volcanic plugs that have withstood the power of erosion.  The softer volcanic rock that once covered them has long since eroded away.  Be careful scrambling down, and return along the same path.

when the subduction of a tectonic plate generated enough magma to fuel a chain of volcanoes.  Bishop Peak is the deep core of one of these volcanoes, made from sticky, high-silica magma, and the panoramic view from the summit encompasses the mountains, the ocean, and the entire chain of morros.  The trail passes through native grasslands and oak woodlands, and it ends with a scramble over massive dacite boulders.

- click on map to enlarge -