Beginning Note: I have heard this hike called both Red Rock and High School Hill, but I think High School Hill is the more common name for it.
This is one of my favorite short hikes in San Luis Obispo. It’s a 4 mile out and back hike that’s moderately difficult. My favorite part of the hike is that there is an interesting metal structure at the top that you can climb and play around on. When it’s clear, there are great views of Bishops Peak, Madonna, and you can occasionally see all the way to the ocean. In the spring when the hills are green and the wildflowers are blooming it’s especially beautiful. This hike is also part of the Three Peak or Tri-Tip Challenge in San Luis Obispo where you hike Bishops, Madonna, and this hill and then you go eat a tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill downtown. If you have a whole day to spend in SLO and enjoy hiking, I would definitely recommend doing these three hikes (and getting the sandwich because Firestone is bomb).
Another great thing about this hike is that it’s very easy to find the trailhead. It’s at the end of Lizzy Street. You drive up the hill until the street end and then the trail starts there.
The trail starts on a fairly flat, but rocky, narrow trail that is fenced in my a wooden fence. This is the only part of the trail that is shaded by trees so enjoy it while you can.
After this first part, the hike basically just climbs at a fairly steady and steep pace until you reach the top of the hill. The trail cuts up the hillside, and there are often wildflower and Yucca plants in bloom along on the trail. Unfortunately, on the way up your back is turned towards the view, but, because this trail is such a steady climb, I usually take some breaks and that offers you a chance to turn around and look out at the view.
Another note: if it has just rained or it is going to rain, DO NOT DO THIS HIKE. It gets super slippery when its wet because of the steepness and the rocks on the trail. I also would not recommend this hike for a sunrise hike due to the weather in SLO. It’s often foggy in the morning and usually doesn’t clear away until mid morning. I made the mistake of doing this hike at sunrise once and the fog was so thick that it looked like there was a white sheet behind us in photos.
The fog gets real thick in SLO
Once you reach the top, you’ll have great views of all of San Luis Obispo. The town and Bishops Peak are laid out in front of you, and then to the side you can see the rolling hills of the Paso Robles grade. There is also a metal structure/bell tower at the top that I have always taken the time to climb and play on. This structure used to be red, but I believe it is currently green.
Overall, this is a fun, quick, but difficult hike that provides you with great views. It’s in a fairly central location in SLO and easy to find.
The Best (and pretty much only) hike in Avila Beach, CA.
Disclaimer: I have probably done this hike over 50 times, which means that the pictures I have will be from various hikes, and also that many of the times I have been there I didn’t even take pictures. For example, I did this hike this past week, and I didn’t take a single photo, which I’m regretting now, because the fog created a cool effect over the ocean that I now don’t have a photo of. But I do have a million other photos that span over various years, so get excited.
The Ridge is a gorgeous hike and I think perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the Central Coast. You have panoramic views of the ocean for over half of the trail, and there are some fun and interesting caves/beaches you can explore at one point as well. You also have views of the grape and agricultural fields at various parts of the trail. It’s a respectable 3 1/2-ish mile trail which makes it perfect if you don’t have a ton of time but want to get some nature in. I’ve also had friends who have stopped here and hiked it with me while they were driving North on the 101 because it’s right off the freeway.
Sorry, I know some of these photos aren’t up to par but I’m fairly confident that last photo was taken on the first cell phone I even owned just to give you an idea of how long I have been doing this hike.
To get to the trailhead, you actually need to be in Shell Beach. You turn onto El Portal and Drive down that street until it runs into a fence. To the left of the fence there is a driveway and to the right of the fence there is the trailhead. Drive down the driveway and park your car in the lot. It’s really small, so if there’s no spots you can also park on the street across from the trailhead.
The trailhead starts you on a flat trail with your back to the ocean that basically walks below and next to the “ridge” mountain that you are later going to climb up and then back down. Right before you hit the 101, you start up a very steep trail. I know it sounds like it would suck to do a hike right next to a freeway, but once you’re past that initial climb, you can’t see it at all. And while you climb, you can see the ocean and the hills of the other side of the 101 so it’s never been a deal breaker for me.
Once you make it to the top of the ridge, you go through a series of up and downs as you traverse the trail. The rule with this trail is if you think you’ve gone up the last hill before you start walking down, you have one more. But fear not, the views along the way of the ocean and the houses in Shell and the agricultural fields means that you don’t really notice the incline all the much. Like seriously, the views are amazing.
After all that spread out uphill, you now get to do a very tricky and fairly dangerous thing: walk all the uphill back down in a very short amount of space. This part of the trail is essentially straight down. Make sure your shoes have some tread folks because you will be sliding a bit.
Side note: I’ve actually slid down this hill on pieces of cardboard in the middle of the night and had the cops called on us because our gleeful screams were confused for an injured hiker. The cop literally ran up this hill and we were all very impressed with his fitness level. We all thought we were going to get in trouble but the cop was pretty amused when we told him what we were doing and just told us to keep the noise down.
After that lovely downhill, it’s pretty much flat from here. If you go to your right there is a beach (that you have to climb down to) and some pretty sweet caves to explore. If you go to your left you are in the parking lot of Pirate’s Cove Beach. Fun fact: Pirate’s Cove is not a public beach, so if you wanna get naked/participate in some illicit activities (if you are of age of course) this is the beach to go to on the Central Coast.
check out dem caves
woo hoo for secret beaches
After you’re done exploring, the trail takes you past the gate on an old fire road that is no longer in use that goes on the bluffs above Pirate’s Cove beach. You don’t get much a view, because you’re surrounded by tall fennel, artichoke, and yucca plants, but the purple flowers from the artichoke and white blooming Yucca are pretty, and the fennel makes the whole part of this trail smell like black licorice.
After you get to the end of the fire trail, you actually walk down Bluff Drive/Trail, which is a sidewalk trail with the ocean on one side and giant McMansions on the other. I am a fan of ignoring the signs that say pedestrians must walk on the sidewalk and like to walk on the street because 1) the sidewalk has inclines and declines and the road does not and 2) the road offers you a better view of all the giant mansions and I like to look at them. Pretty much this entire street is #housegoals.
The end of Bluff trail is where your car is parked if you’re parked in the lot. If you’re on the street you’re going to have to walk out of the lot and then you’re there. If you’re ever visiting or even just driving through the Central Coast I would highly recommend this hike. It has varied scenery, it’s quick, it’s not too easy or too hard, and people at many different fitness levels are able to complete it.
Some other notes about the trail: a lot of people actually do it in the reverse direction. I’ve done it that way once before but I didn’t like it because it’s really not fun to walk up that monster hill and then after that you might as well go sit back down because the rest of it is essentially downhill. I also like facing the ocean on my way up most of the hike and then down that monster hill as opposed to having it at my back for that first part of the hike and then a significant portion of the rest of the hike. It’s also very pretty to do this hike at sunset, but there are a few unmarked turn-offs and it’s hard to walk down that steep hill in the dark, so I wouldn’t recommend that if you’ve never done this hike before. All in all, this is a great hike that everyone who loves the ocean and enjoys creeping on rich people’s houses will definitely enjoy.
Fun fact about me: I really enjoy hand lettering and like to think that I’m at least semi-decent at it. This past quarter at school I’ve been working with one of my friends, who is an incredibly talented nature photographer, to combine my lettering with his photography into prints. These are only preliminary ideas that need a bit of work to get them to the final product, but I thought I would share them because I am literally obsessed.
This particular photo was actually what inspired the name of this blog, and I just changed it to be the header photo for this site. This photo was actually taken over a salt flat in Death Valley around sunset, which I think is sick.
I love puns, they are my favorite thing in the world.
I really like this one because I feel like the photo matches the quote super well. Also the single consistent color of the photo is pleasing.
This photo of a buffalo was taken on Catalina island. The sunset in the background is gorgeous and the detail on the hair of the buffalo is crazy.
I think this one might be one of my favorites because the reflection is gorgeous and the quote fits nicely into the photo.
This little girl is adorable and the bird detail is incredible. Words might need to be darkened but also a huge fan of this one.
Favorite quote in the entire world and one of my favorite place as well. This was taken in Big Sur at Pfeiffer State park.
Hope you enjoyed! 🙂 There’s a few more in the works and I’ll post updates as we work on them more!
We woke up this morning bright and early to pack up our stuff for the last time during the trip. While I was looking forward to using some soap, I didn’t want to go back to the real world with internships and responsibilities (although I did miss my dog, I have included a photo for reference because I am obsessed with him and he is the best). It’s always nice to get away on vacation, and this one was even nicer because we were so isolated without cell service.
After a last cup of that disgusting instant coffee, we made some final adjustments to our pack and we were off. My dad I snapped this cute picture as we were walking across the bridge out of the campsite for the last time. I think it might be the only picture from the trip we have together while wearing our packs. As I did for the whole trip, I had my trusty camera hanging around my neck.
Tuolumne Meadows (aka where our car was parked) is about 6 miles from Glen Aulin. Not counting an uphill patch at the beginning, the hike is fairly flat. The trail goes up the river for the first part, then across some flatlands where you have to cross these huge patches of granite rock, then through some forest-y type scenery, then you get to soda spring, and then finally you walk through the meadow until you hit Tioga Road and you’re back to the start.
Walking next to the river is definitely the most striking part of the hike. The water is pretty and often cascades down in larger and smaller waterfalls. It’s not quite as grand as waterfalls one sees in the valley, but still super pretty. The sound of the water is peaceful and it makes the air smell good in a way that only large amounts of fresh water can. This part is, unfortunately, mostly uphill, but walking next to the river makes it a million times better. We did stop quite a bit during this part though because we had to keep shedding layers as the day got warmer.
Next we walked through across some giant patches of rock and through a forest. I didn’t get a ton of pictures of this part because I was trying very hard to navigate the rock because it’s not even and I was wearing a backpack that’s roughly the size of me. During the walk in the forest, I was chatting with my dad and then forgot to take pictures. I noticed during the trip that I tended to take the most photos in the beginning of the trail and at the end. My theory is basically that I only thought about taking photos when I wasn’t talking to someone (or when something extra pretty popped up but those are exceptional circumstances). In the morning we didn’t talk to each other because it was the morning and we weren’t fully functioning humans yet and at the end of hike we were tired and also not fully functioning humans. That’s something I need to work on next time I hike so I don’t miss out on photos during large chunks of the trails.
Crossing the River
views from the trail
one last picture of the waterfall as we left
some granite patches
as you can see, it was a steep trail!
About 1.5 miles from where our car was parked, we hit Soda Springs and Lembert and Parson’s cabin. I didn’t good photos of either of these cabins, so I should probably explain them. Lembert’s cabin is essentially the ruins of the tiny cabin he lived in for 10 years or so as a hermit in High Valley (my kind of man to be honest). The cabin may also have been used as a spring house rather than a dwelling as it is built over some of the natural springs there, and his actual cabin was probably somewhere else (it’s not like the guy documented his life as he was a hermit). There’s not much left of it but a few walls of stone. Parson’s cabin was built by the Sierra Club in his memory. Parsons was on the Board of Directors for the Sierra Club, and the cabin was used as a meeting place when it was first built and is now used for educational demonstrations by park rangers.
The area around the cabin is called Soda Springs, so named because the water in the springs is naturally carbonated. Geologists aren’t really sure why this phenomena occurs. It can be kind of interesting to stand over a spring and watch the bubbles come and pop to the surface (although I may have been so tired from sleeping in a tent all week that I reverted back to the mindset of a toddler and that’s why I found this entertaining). It wasn’t the most exciting part of the trip, but it did make me curious why no one can figure out why this happens. I also wanted to drink it, but my dad told me not to.
The next part of the hike was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We got to walk on flat ground while looking at gorgeous views, which is a rare thing in Yosemite. We simultaneously got views of the Meadow (sometimes with water/mini lakes), the forest, and the mountains peeking up behind the trees. There were quite a few more hikes on this part of the trail because it is closer to the campground, but I’d gladly trade some isolation for some pretty views. It also never really gets that busy up in High Valley because it’s so deep into the park, so that’s not something I would worry about if I visit again. Karson went ahead of my dad and I during this part of the hike, but my feet were hurting so we just cruised and enjoyed the scenery for the last time before we had to head home.
oh hey there dome
and more meadow
My dad wanted a pic with Lembert Dome
Eventually we made it to the road, and I think we were all bummed to be leaving but also ready to go home (we all smelled pretty rank at this point to be honest). On our way out, we (and by we I mean by father) started talking to a group of middle-aged women who live all over the country but meet once a year to get their friend group back together from college and go backpacking. I thought that this was an awesome way to stay in touch and stored it in my memory for later when my friends and I don’t all live in the same place.
As we were walking along Tioga Road to get to where our car was parked, a lady surprised us by whipping open her van door and offering us a bag of vegetables. I know what you’re thinking, which is that we probably shouldn’t have taken a bag of food from a stranger in a van, but you’ve got to keep in mind that we hadn’t eaten anything fresh in 5 days. I have never been so freaking excited to eat raw broccoli in my entire life, and doubt I will ever be that excited to eat raw broccoli ever again.
After profusely thanking the vegetable lady and devouring the bag in about a minute, we finally made it to our car and headed home. On our way home we stopped at this super good pizza parlor and I got some ravioli and we ordered a pizza. It was a satisfying close to a wonderful trip. Despite the fact that we had hiked around 35 miles in 5 days, I went home feeling more relaxed and content than I had felt in a long while.
A quote from John Muir’s book The Mountains of California succinctly sums up how I felt when we left the park that day:
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
I always find the John Muir can describe how I feel about nature much better than I ever could.
Thank you so much for reading this series (if I haven’t bored you yet). Hopefully there will be more to come soon 🙂 Also, my dad and I are traveling to Yosemite again in August so stay tuned for stories about those adventures as well if you’re a Yosemite fan. If you’re sick of Yosemite, I should be talking about some hikes in and around SLO for the next few posts so you can look forward to those as well.
We allowed ourselves to sleep in this morning a little bit because we didn’t have to pack up our campsite. We hung out a bit in the morning and drank our (nasty) instant coffee and enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually, we got ourselves ready to go, and packed a day pack with some snacks and my camera for the day. Waterwheel is a little over a 7 mile hike, so it was going to take us a majority of our day.
Side note on clothing: I brought three pairs of running tights for 5 days. I like wearing running tights while backpacking or hiking because it prevents chafing, sunburn, and bugs getting on my legs. They got a little dirty, but I also had the opportunity to wash them in the river, so it wasn’t too bad. I also brought three sports bras, three pairs of socks, and three shirts and also rinsed those in the river on the third day so then when I wore them the fourth and fifth days they weren’t too disgusting. My dad and Karson both wore those hiking pants that you can zip off at the knee. I considered getting a pair of these, but I didn’t really want to invest in a pair and am very comfortable in my running tights. Anything works really, but I would consider wearing long pants because it may be more comfortable in the long run and I don’t think it made me that much hotter.
Anyways, Waterwheel is a bit of a rough hike in that the uphill part is coming back. You basically walk on flat ground for about a mile, then walk downhill for around 3 miles, and then turn around and walk back uphill, and then flat again. This trail follows the river very closely, and at times you even get a little misty from the water. There are also places where you can walk out on the granite near where the water is running, which is pretty cool to be able to do. We stopped and ate our lunch at one of these granite patches near the water. The hike is also unique in that there are these huge cliffs of granite that extend upwards next to the river. They hem you in a bit and force you to stay right next to the river, but they make for some amazing views.
Side note: granite gets incredibly slippery when it’s wet, so be EXTREMELY careful around the water. There have been a lot of injuries and deaths in the park from people wading into rivers that seemed slow moving and harmless, and the next thing they know they lost their grip and couldn’t regain their traction, and ended up getting injured or even going over a waterfall because the granite is so deceptively slippery. When I got close to the river to take some of the photos I wanted to take, my dad was very concerned and was super careful to make sure I didn’t get distracted and accidentally step into the water at all because I would have slipped and, at best, gotten seriously injured. Don’t go into any water at the park near a falls, in shallow granite, or basically anywhere that’s not a safe pool where you know you won’t slip or could possibly end up on the wrong side of a waterfall. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it is the wilderness and you need to err on the side of caution.
Anyways, the hike starts on flat ground in a sort of forest that runs next to the river. It’s very green and lush, with plants and trees everywhere. As is the case in most of the hikes in the park, there are random granite rocks on the side of the trail occasionally. There were also a lot of mountain jays on this part of the trail, but I couldn’t manage to get a picture because those little buggers are quick. We also saw one of the only redwood trees we saw while backpacking on this part of the trail. I looked up why there were so few of them where we were when I got home (because I love redwoods), and apparently the trees aren’t fans of the high elevation. I can’t say I blame them; I was not a fan of the elevation either.
Example of granite patch by the water
we found a redwood!
Foresty part of the hike
random boulder near the trail
Sorry I know there’s a million pictures, but this part was soooooo gorgeous. I often wish I was as pretty as Yosemite, so I post pictures of the park as frequently as if I am a pre-teen taking selfies on her first camera phone.
For me, again, the hardest part of this hike was the walking downhill part. Some of it is uneven, hand-carved granite steps, and some of it is just downhill on a trail, but it is steep and not easy to navigate either way. It also gets super hot because, once you get out of the forest, there is almost no shade along the trail. We reapplied sunscreen pretty much every time we stopped, which was fairly frequently when we were walking uphill on the way back because it gets super tiring going uphill for so long, even without packs.
As I mentioned on my last post, the reason this hike is called Waterwheel is because there are sections where the water hits the granite at such a high speed that it pops up into the air and looks like one of those old-time waterwheels that were used to power factories along rivers. I personally didn’t see that much of a resemblance, but I also don’t think we went at a time when the water pressure was particularly high, so we probably didn’t get the full effect of what it looks like when the river is at full capacity. Nevertheless, the hike offered some gorgeous views, and I’m glad we camped the extra day at Glen Aulin in order to be able to do it.
This is supposed to look like a waterwheel… I can kind of see it?
When we returned back to the campsite, we grabbed our kindles (or GameBoys) and headed back down the little sandy beach I described in my last post. We sat in our chairs and enjoyed the last rays of the afternoon sun while eating some snacks and reading, which is basically my idea of heaven. As the sun started to get lower, we gathered our stuff and went and made ourselves some more dinner. I believe I had the freeze dried fried rice and chicken tonight and I had no complaints about it. As soon as it started to get dark, we went ahead and got into our tents because the bugs started to come out and the temperature started to drop. It consistently surprised me throughout the trip how different the temperature is at night and during the day, but the change really makes you feel like you’re someplace that’s wild and unpredictable; almost like Yosemite doesn’t really want you to be there and you feel rebellious, as though camping is a defiant act against mother nature. Romanticizing aside, the temperature change really did remind me that I was definitely in the wilderness, which is comforting but unnerving at the same time, and I’m not really sure how that can be, but I absolutely love the feeling.
Tomorrow would be our last day in High Valley, and then we had to go back to our real lives of jobs and responsibilities and responding to text messages (ugh). We were going to hike back to Tuolumne and then drive home, passing Soda Springs and John Muir’s restored cabin along the trail home. I was bummed to be leaving the next day, but still excited to hike tomorrow and see more of the park and the High Sierra trail. I could have spent weeks up here and been perfectly content.