The Nine Sisters – San Luis Obispo, California

Rebecca Hext
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Photo Credit

The quaint central coast town of San Luis Obispo, California is home to a famous series of nine peaks. These peaks, known as the “Nine Sisters” are a series of volcanic mountains that run from San Luis to Morro Bay. The Nine Sisters were created over 20,000,000 years ago from volcanic plugs of magma and still stand today.



Hiking the Nine Sisters

If you are planning on taking a visit to the central coast, these series of peaks should be one of your first stops. Many of the Nine Sisters have trails for mountain bikers, hikers, and runners. Check out our guide to see which Sister is right for you!

Morro Rock

Starting in the waters of Morro Bay, we have the stunning Morro Rock.  Arguably one of the most photographed and iconic Sisters of the bunch, Morro Rock is a must see.  Morro Rock is the smallest of the Nine Sisters, topping out at only 576 feet. However, the Morro Rock is not climbable for visitors.

The Mountain was established as a California Historical Landmark 1968 and continues to be preserved today. With the exception of ceremonial climbs done by the Chumash and Salinan tribes, no one is allowed on Morro Rock. However, looking at it from the shores of the Pacific Ocean is reason enough to add it to your list.


Black Hill

Moving inland, the next Sister you will reach is Black Hill. This is the first Sister from the coast that offers hiking trails for public use. Topping out at 665 feet, this is a perfect idea for a family hike. You can park at the bottom and hike through a small forest of eucalyptus trees before making your way to the rocky top.  Additionally, you can use the trailhead located 0.6 miles from the top if you are looking for a quick and easy viewpoint. There is also a hidden tree swing on one of the side trails if you are feeling adventurous!

Cerro Cabrillo

Next up, you will see Cerro Cabrillo at 911 feet. Cerro Cabrillo is located within Morro Bay State Park and offers incredible panoramic views of Morro Rock and the bay. The rock was named by the famous Portuguese sailor, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, after his journey along the California Coast. There is an unmaintained, 2.5-mile trail that leads to the summit and is open for public access. Because the trial is unmaintained and has a bit of rock climbing towards the top, it is not recommended for young children.

Hollister Peak

Hollister Peak is the fourth Sister and peaks at 1,404 feet.  This rocky peak is visible from the 101 Freeway and is said to resemble the shape of an elephant. It was named by local residents that owned the land it sits on. Unfortunately for hikers, this area is still privately owned and not open for public use. Additionally, the owners are historically quick to call authorities on rogue hikers, so it is recommended to appreciate this beauty from afar.

Cerro Romauldo

Likewise, next in line, Cerro Romauldo, is owned half privately and half by the California National Guard. This 1,306 feet mountain is visible from the road, but no hikeable for visitors.


The California National Guard uses the mountain for the fitness training of those based at Camp San Luis Obispo. Once again, rogue hiking is not recommended and fines for trespassing are given out by local law enforcement.

Chumash Peak

Chumash Peak is the last of the Nine Sisters that is not accessible to the public. This 1,257-foot peak is clearly visible from many locations in San Luis Obispo. The mountain is frequently photographed due to it’s immediate proximity to the famous Bishop Peak.

Bishop Peak

Bishop is arguably the most popular of the Nine Sisters for hiking. Due to its easy access through residential areas and close proximity to the local college, the trails are always swarming with hikers. This 1,559-foot tall peak has two trailheads, one located on the front and one located on the back. Hiking this peak to see the sunrise is very common due to the fact that cloud inversions are often visible.


However, be sure to be courteous of the homes that back up to the trail. Likewise, Bishop is part of a fun local hiking challenge in which hikers summit the Cal Poly P, Bishop Peak, and Madonna Mountain all in one day.  The “tri-tip challenge” is then followed by enjoying a famous tri-tip sandwich at the local restaurant, Firestone Grill.

Cerro San Luis – “Madonna Mountain”

Cerro San Luis, often referred to as “Madonna Mountain” because of it’s proximity to the famous Madonna Inn, tops out at 1,292 feet. Although many residents believe the iconic white “M” on the side of the mountain is for Madonna Inn, it is actually for Mission Prep High School. Although it is owned by many different groups, public access is still permitted. This peak has a strenuous trail that leads directly to the famous “M” and another trail that leads all the way to the peak. However, beware that the trail offers almost no shade and is quite dusty in the Summer/Falls months.

Islay Hill

Last but not least, Islay Hill peaks out at 775 feet. This peak is open for public hiking and has various different trails even though it is privately owned. Because of its height, Islay is a great option for younger children.

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