Irish Hills Natural Reserve
Central Coast

How To Hike Irish Hills Natural Reserve In San Luis Obispo

Irish Hills Natural Reserve is a beautiful hiking and mountain biking area in San Luis Obispo. We stumbled upon this natural reserve while researching easy day hikes that we could do on a weekend trip to Morro Bay.

We ended up hiking a 3.2-mile-long loop starting from the Irish Hills Sterling Lane Trailhead. This natural reserve is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a quick workout or a nature escape near the Central Coast.

In this post, we cover where Irish Hills Natural Reserve is located, what you can expect if you plan to visit it, and our experience hiking a few of the available Irish Hills trails.

Views of San Luis Obispo.

Guide to visiting Irish Hills Natural Reserve in San Luis Obispo:

Mariposa Trail at Irish Hills Natural Reserve.

Quick Trail Highlights

Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:

  • Trail Name: Sterling, Mariposa, Poppy, Canyon View Tail Loop
  • Length: 3.2-mile-long loop
  • Elevation Gain: Around 750 feet
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail allows dogs

Irish Hills trails are dog friendly.

Location & Parking

Irish Hills is a large natural reserve in the foothills of San Luis Obispo. There are several access points that lead into this nature reserve. On Google Maps they’re marked as:

On our visit, most of the access points were closed due to rain, except for the Sterling Lane Trailhead. This trail is mostly paved so it was open to the public, even after heavy rainfall.

Irish Hills Sterling Lane Trailhead

To reach the Sterling Lane Trailhead we had to drive through a residential neighborhood and park a few blocks away from the entrance. There isn’t a designated visitor lot at the trailhead and many of the surrounding streets had ‘No Parking’ signs.

Due to a lack of parking, this trail is mostly used by locals from the neighborhood walking their dogs – which is great if you’re looking for a hiking area that is not very crowded. There were very few people that we encountered past the entrance so it felt very peaceful and remote.

Trail starting point

To get there, you can set directions to Irish Hills Sterling Lane Trailhead. Or you can look up Sterling, Mariposa, Poppy, Canyon View Tail Loop on the AllTrails app and set directions through the app.

Once you reach the starting point, you will need to go through a gate. The trailhead has a large map of the available Irish Hills trails, their distances, elevation gain, and difficulty levels. There are also doggie bags, free dog leashes, and a trash can for waste.

Views of the surrounding mountains from the trail.

About Irish Hills Natural Reserve

Irish Hills Natural Reserve consists of 720 acres of a natural area including 8 miles of trails. The trails at Irish Hills vary in distances and difficulty levels from easy to more challenging routes. Some of the trails allow mountain biking, while others are only made for walking, hiking, and trail running.

On our visit, we chose to hike a 3.2-mile-long moderate trail with 750 feet of elevation gain. This route connects several hiking trails into one longer loop:

  • Sterling Trail
  • Mariposa Trai
  • Poppy Trail
  • Canyon View Trail

Map of Sterling, Mariposa, Poppy, Canyon View Tail Loop:

If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging the Irish Hills Open Space Loop is 8.8 miles long with 1400 feet of elevation gain.

Irish Hills Natural Reserve is open to the public from 1 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset. This area is also home to wildlife such as deer, coyotes, mountain lions, snakes, and a variety of birds.

Our Experience Hiking At Irish Hills Natural Reserve

Here is the detailed breakdown of our experience hiking at Irish Hills Natural Reserve covering what the trail was like and some of the main stops.

After arriving in San Luis Obispo, we found parking a few blocks away from the Irish Hills Natural Reserve Sterling Lane entrance. Once you pass through the gate, the trail will follow a wide, paved path.

Sterling Trail

Right off the beginning, you will be greeted with incredible views of the Morros and the City of San Luis Obispo.

Along the way, you will pass a few electricity towers buzzing full of energy. After the initial climb up, the landscape will turn very rugged with lots of trees, shrubs, and rolling hills that were especially green after recent rainfall.

The higher you go, the better the views will get!

The first 0.5 miles follow the Sterling Trail up to a grassy hill. This hill offers excellent views of the surrounding mountains and is a great place to take a quick break. Many people make it up to this section and then turn back around.

We decided to keep going so we followed signs for Mariposa Trail up a steep hill. This area has many short trails that intersect so we recommend using a hiking app like AllTrails to keep track of the route.

Views of the Morros

At the intersection go left to continue on the paved Mariposa Trail. Once you finish the initial climb, the trail follows a mountain ridge with panoramic views all around. It was quite windy at the top so I recommend bringing an insulated puff jacket in the colder seasons to stay warm.

Eventually, the paved section will end and the path will continue up a narrow, rocky terrain. If you have trekking poles, they can come in handy to avoid slipping and twisting your ankle on slippery rocks.

The turning point for Poppy Trail.

In 1.5 miles you will start the climb down along the Poppy Trail until you reach Froom Creek. In January Froom Creek was flowing full of water from fresh rain.

The landscape here was very rugged and beautiful. We even saw a small waterfall flowing down the lush green hills after heavy rainfall.

Small waterfall in the distance.

This wilderness area of Irish Hills was empty except for a few trail runners that passed us. All in all, this loop felt very serene and we didn’t encounter many people along it.

Once you reach Canyon View Trail, there will be one last climb up, but nothing overly challenging. You will pass through another gate and the route will loop back with Mariposa Trail that you can take back to the starting point.

Overall, this is a great hike if you’re looking for a quick escape from the city life in Central California!

The rugged landscapes along the Canyon View Trail.

After completing the hike, we highly recommend stopping by At Bites Vietnamese Restaurant in San Luis Obispo for a nourishing meal. This restaurant was recommended to us by a friend and we were amazed by the fresh taste and yummy ingredients used in every dish.

SLO Provisions is another one of our favorite lunch spots in San Luis Obispo that serves fresh, delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches.

Other Visitor Tips

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind before you head out to hike at Irish Hills Natural Reserve:

  • There are no restrooms at the trailhead or along the hike.
  • There are no trashcans past the trailhead. Be prepared to bring out any trash including your pet’s.
  • Dogs are allowed at Irish Hills Natural Reserve but need to stay on leash. There were free doggie leashes at the entrance – a nice gesture in case you forgot yours at home.
  • The California foothills are known for having lots of rattlesnakes in the summertime. While snake bites are rare, we recommend bringing a snake venom extractor kit, especially if you plan to hike with your dog. We’ve also done rattlesnake training classes with our dog so he can recognize and avoid rattlesnakes on the trail.
  • Bring plenty of water bottles for the hike, especially in the summer. We also bring a collapsible water bowl for day hikes with our dog.
  • Pack a first aid kitheadlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on short day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
  • In the summer I recommend bringing mineral sunscreenlip balm, and polarized sunglasses to avoid getting sunburned. While some portions of this trail are partially shaded, other sections are exposed to the sun.

Where To Stay In San Luis Obispo

Planning a trip to San Luis Obispo from out of town? Here are some of the best hotels in this area!

San Luis Creek Lodge

Photo by San Luis Creek Lodge

This three-star hotel is a hip bed and breakfast that is filled with modern décor. The San Luis Creek Lodge features king and queen standard rooms furnished with mid-century modern decor, locally sourced art, and beautiful wallpaper.

Guests are treated to luxury toiletries as well as a lovely breakfast in the mornings complete with coffee and fresh pastries. Overall, this is one of the most stylish hotels you can stay at in Central California!

Hotel San Luis Obispo

Photo by Hotel San Luis Obispo

Hotel San Luis Obispo is a stunning hotel located at the center of downtown SLO. This hotel is within walking distance of many local attractions and features contemporary rooms with fantastic amenities.

From the swimming pool and hot tub to the onsite fitness center and bar, there’s plenty to keep the entire family occupied during your stay! Guests are treated to free bikes, complimentary parking, Nespresso machines, and private balconies or terraces in the rooms.

Read More: 10 Unforgettable Places To Stay In San Luis Obispo On Central Coast

We hope this guide has helped you prepare for a wonderful hiking trip to San Luis Obispo. Looking for more Central Coast travel inspiration? Check out these posts next:

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, may I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

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