The Irish Hills Are Smiling

Hiking the Irish Hills in San Luis Obispo

Everyone loves San Luis Obispo, and the Irish Hills rank high among reasons why. Inches from civilization, you enter a world laced with oak-shaded creeks, green grassy hillsides, and rugged chaparral-cloaked slopes that lift you to views stretching clear to Morro Bay and the southern Big Sur Coast. When you’re not exhilarated by the big views, you’re enchanted by the presence of poppies, blue blossoms of ceanothus, stands of native bunchgrass, and—careful now—entrances to old mercury mine shafts.

This six-mile loop connects much of the best of SLO’s Irish Hills Natural Reserve as it climbs 900 feet to Morro View. From the trailhead, make your way east across an open meadow toward a cattle guard/bridge, where you’ll cross and descend beside a row of pines to meet Froom Creek Trail. There you turn right and follow this rocky trail alongside the perennial creek, climbing steadily for about 1.5 miles until you meet signed Poppy Trail. You can only go right on this short connector trail to Mariposa Trail, where you should bear left and follow the signs to Morro View. By now you’ve gained enough elevation to see much of SLO, Laguna Lake, and the Los Osos Valley, a corridor that links SLO to Morro Bay. Rising above the valley floor are the Nine Sisters, steep, rocky volcanic hills that punctuate the rolling green terrain. Finally, at Morro View, 2.5 miles from the start, the ninth Sister comes dramatically into view. That’s landmark Morro Rock—and beyond it, the Santa Lucia Mountains dipping down to meet the southern Big Sur Coast. Look for a big hole in the ground at Morro View—that’s the entrance to the sealed-off shaft of an old mercury mine, one of several in the vicinity.

From Morro View you’ll need to retrace your steps a short distance to pick up Mariposa Trail, which you should follow southeast toward the trailhead, finally turning right on King Trail, one of the prettiest stretches of the whole loop. You cross impossibly green hillsides, then make multiple creek crossings in the shade of huge gnarled oak trees. Your hike is soon done, but there’s nothing to lament—you’re in San Luis Obispo!

GET YOUR GUINNESS: McCarthy’s Irish Tavern in downtown SLO serves the creamy stout on draft.

To get to the Froom Creek Trailhead, take US-101 to Exit 200, Los Osos Valley Rd., three miles south of downtown San Luis Obispo. Drive west on Los Osos Valley Rd. for a half-mile and turn left into the Costco/Home Depot shopping complex. The trail begins behind The Home Depot, where you can park near the queue for the Costco gas station. Dog friendly!

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