Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Cerro Alto

Hiked: 4/2/2017
Distance: 4.3 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2624'
Elevation Gain: 1890'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.51
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 52 oz.
Parking/Fees: $10 day use fee at Cerro Alto Campground
Difficulty: Easy

Cerro Alto is north of San Luis Obispo, and the northernmost peak on the Sierra Club Lower Peak List. Unlike most SoCal national forest areas, the Adventure Pass is no good here. As of May 1, 2016, the day use fee for parking at the Cerro Alto Trailhead is $10 per vehicle. I coughed up the cash in a self service envelope and dropped it off. There is a short route (Bridge Trail) and long route (Cerro Alto trail). Since we had another peak to squeeze in, Adam and I aimed for the shorter route that crosses a wooden bridge over a stream at the start. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation and soon you have great views looking down into the valley below. It was a minor grind to the unsigned junction with the longer Cerro Alto trail. We turned right to continue up and soon hit another unsigned junction, making an error by turning right again. We gained a few hundred feet before realizing we were not heading toward Cerro Alto. We briefly considered trying a cross country shortcut but the chaparral was thick. Later, I found out we could have continued and circled back on another trail. Instead, we saw another party coming down the Cerro Alto trail so we reversed course and went the other way. The diversion distorted the stats a little. A short section of trail later, we found a sign indicating Cerro Alto was 1.2 miles away. More grinding got us to the final junction, this one also with a helpful sign pointing us the right direction for the final quarter mile. Cerro Alto offered great 360 views of the green landscape. There used to be a fire lookout on the summit, but no trace remained of it. We had hoped to see Morro Rock from the summit, but the marine layer had not burned off completely and was still covering the coastline. We talked to some friendly locals at the top and rested a little before heading back. Finally, we drove south toward Valencia Peak, the final mountain of the day.

Start of the bridge trail

The first sign of a sign, after we made a wrong turn

Cerro Alto in striking distance


Ridge to Tassajera Peak

Green acres is the place to be

Farm living is the life for me


  1. I did this hike last summer, and know the trail that you're talkign about that you felt was wrong. It would indeed get there, but would have been a little longer, but more gradual. I took that trail down from the summit - the trail that you and I took to the summit is pretty steep. I was there in early August, and it was hot. The fire in Monterey was burning, and the smoke was pretty bad - I wasn't affected by it, but the haze really affected the view.

    Good write-up, as usual.

    Mike Martin, Riverside, CA

    1. Mike,

      Thanks, we didn't know the area very well. The family we talked to on top lived in the area and said a lot of first time hikers on Cerro Alto end up going the wrong way. We got added to that list.