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West Cuesta Ridge

West Cuesta Ridge Trail MapThe West Cuesta Ridge trail is the great divide between northern and southern San Luis Obispo County, running across the ridgetop from Cuesta Pass to Cerro Alto. The Los Padres National Forest trail crawls up past 2,500 feet and runs along partially paved TV Tower Road. A favorite of local mountain bikers because of the countless single tracks that branch off the main trail, the road also draws its share of botanists and sight-seers thanks to a 1,300-acre botanical area along with spectacular views of the golden coast and the chain of Morros that leads to the centerpiece of the county – San Luis Obispo.

Best Time

The ridge trail is ideal for sunrise and sunset rides and hikes, especially in the summer months when the heat keeps many trail users away. The botanical area is at its best in the late spring when the hills are green and the flowers are in full bloom.

Finding the Trail

Take the 101 north from San Luis Obispo to the dirt parking area located at the summit of Cuesta Grade on the west side of the freeway. Park in the day use area. The trail runs up TV Tower Road – also called West Cuesta Ridge Road.

East Cuesta Ridge is accessible via the parking area and trailhead located at the gate off the northbound lane of Highway 101 at the top of the Cuesta Grade.

Trail Description

Head north on TV Tower Road, • 1 which starts at just over 1,500 feet and climbs another 1,000 feet by the time your reach the botanical area. At .5 miles, you’ll pass a gate to a private residence. Stay to the left and continue the climb to the top of the ridge. About a mile into the hike, the trail begins to look down upon Atascadero to the north and San Luis Obispo to the south. At 1.25 miles, you’ll pass a gate • 2 and a dirt road that leads to a very technical mountain biking trail nicknamed “Shooters.” Stay right and continue on up the paved road. The climb continues with glimpses down to Poly Canyon, a popular destination for hiking/cycling college students at nearby Cal Poly. At 2.5 miles the road passes another gate. This road leads to the television and radio antenna towers • 3 that can been seen atop the ridge. Stay left on the paved road. The botanical area is located right around the bend at 2.8 miles.

The Cuesta Ridge Botanical Area • 4 was established in the late 1960s and contains about 1,334 acres of sensitive plant species that have been threatened by everything from wildfires to recreation and even mining practices. The signature plant among the coastal chaparral is the rare sargent cypress and Cuesta Pass checkerbloom. The trail leaves the designated botanical area at the five-mile mark, which is a good place to picnic and look out over San Luis Obispo and the North Coast. The road is pretty beat up after this point, which makes it a good turnaround spot. Follow the same road back to the parking area• 5.

 

Milestones

1 0.0 Begin your climb up TV Tower Road, initially traveling north

2 1.3 Stay right when you reach the gated dirt road to “Shooters”

3 2.5 Continue down the paved road past the television and radio towers

4 2.8 Enter the Cuesta Ridge Botanical Area

5 5.0 Exit the botanical area, turn around and return by the same route

 

Pull-out

West Cuesta Ridge was hit hard by the Highway 41 wildfire in August 1994, burning thousands of acres in the Los Padres National Forest. Unique plant species such as the Cuesta Pass Checkerbloom – a perennial herb with pinkish-lavender flowers that grows on serpentine rock and soils – are making a steady comeback thanks to habitat conservation and other measures.

 

Trail Use

Hike, Run, Bike, Horse

Length

10 miles, 5 hours

Vertical Feet

±1,010’

Difficulty

4

Trail Type

Out & back

Surface Type

Dirt, Paved

Features

Canyon

Mountain

Summit

Birds

Wildflowers

Great Views

Great Photos

Secluded