Cerro Alto

Distance: 4 miles round-trip

Time: 2.5 hours

Highlights:  After a grueling climb, the summit provides powerful 360° vistas of the SLO County coastline, including the line of volcanic morros from Morro Rock to Islay Hill.

Trailhead:  From Hwy. 101 in Atascadero, take Hwy. 41 west for 8.7 miles and turn left at the Cerro Alto Campground turnoff (forest road 29S11).  Drive 1 mile to the parking lot at the end of the road.  A parking fee is required.  The trailhead is between campsites 15 and 16, near the East Fork Morro Creek footbridge.

Directions: Cross the footbridge and begin ascending swtichbacks through the forest and into the chaparral.  At 0.7 miles, bear left on the AT&T Cable Road, and follow it for 200 yards to a signed junction with the Summit Trail on the right.  Take the Summit Trail up along the edge of the mountainside until it reaches a junction with the Lookout Road.  Bear left and continue up to the summit.  Relax and enjoy the views.  Atascadero is to the east, Los Osos and Morro Rock is to the west, and San Luis Obispo lies to the south, behind Cuesta Ridge.  Return the way you came or along Lookout Road.

Similarities/Differences:  The climb to Cerro Alto is shorter than Rancho Alegre’s Nine-Mile Hike in terms of elevation gain and distance, but it is also much steeper.  Coastal fog can be common, so choose a clear day and pack plenty of water because there is little shade on the trail.  The views should be just as spectacular.

Elevation Gain:  1600 feet

Difficulty: Very strenuous, and beware of descending mountain bikers!

Credit: Photos by Adam Dale and Joe Ramirez -

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