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13 Best Hiking and Running Trails near Pismo Beach, CA

Pismo Beach has a selection of easy and moderate trails that offer sweeping ocean views, peak climbs, and ridge hikes. It's a fantastic way to explore the area.
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Whether you are a fan of clam chowder or not, Pismo Beach is a charming destination that shouldn’t be missed. It has quite a few hikes with classic Californian hills and ocean panoramas.

Most of the trails in Pismo Beach are easy and moderate; you won’t find challenging, strenuous hikes here. This is great for beginners, families, and runners who can enjoy local trails without overexertion.

Yet, more experienced hikers will have to venture to Big Sur, Fresno, or Bakersfield to find themselves a challenge.

Trails near Pismo Beach:

  1. Discovery Trail
  2. Bob Jones Bike Trail
  3. Sycamore Crest Trail
  4. Ontario Ridge and Shell Beach Bluff Loop
  5. Monarch Butterfly Grove and Meadow Butterfly Trail
  6. Oso Flaco Lake Trail
  7. Pismo Reserve Inner Loop
  8. Johnson Ranch Loop
  9. Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park
  10. Valencia Peak Trail
  11. Cerro San Luis Obispo Trail
  12. Islay Hill Trail
  13. Bishop Peak Trail

1. Discovery Trail

Discovery Trail
  • Highlight: Hilly trail in Pismo Preserve with stunning ocean panorama; sun-exposed and well-marked; popular biking destination.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 674 feet
  • Time to Complete: 3h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Preserve Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 2 miles (5 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Discovery Trail is a 5.5-mile loop and a great introduction to hiking trails near Pismo Beach. It’s also perfect for mountain biking and nature trips.

The trail is moderately difficult, with 674ft of elevation. The route is hilly and exposed to the sun, making it more challenging than it first seems.

The Prismo Preserve is an excellent spot for hiking, and this trail has many photo opportunities from Octopus Oak to Lovers Point. The views over the Pacific Ocean are stunning too.

Some people complain that the singletrack route is difficult to share with mountain bikers, but this isn’t an issue as long as everyone is respectful.

Overall, it’s a well-developed hiking spot that offers some stunning panoramic views of the ocean with not too much effort.

2. Bob Jones Bike Trail

  • Highlight: Paved and shaded trail for biking and walking; flat and smooth; perfect summer option.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 121 feet
  • Time to Complete: 2h 30min
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Trailhead Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 6 miles (10 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Bob Jones Bike Trail is a 5.3 mile out and back trail near Avila Beach, best used for road biking, walking, and running.

This trail is easy for all skill levels, rising just 121ft in total. Designed for road biking, it is flat and smooth, with a few shaded sections along the way.

Starting at the stunning Avila Beach, this route follows the beautiful San Luis Obispo Creek to the trail’s end and back again. However, the better parking option is at the eastern end of the route, so it’s best to start there.

Some will complain that the shaded, mostly flat route is too easy for hikers, but this relaxed hike is a perfect trip for all the family.

Also, it’s really well-maintained and easy to follow, making it the perfect option for beginners too.

3. Sycamore Crest Trail

  • Highlight: Short but steep trail with lots of shade and sweeping ocean views; wide and great for biking; perfect workout.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h 
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Difficult. Park at Bob Jones Trailhead (Google Maps). Extends the hike by 1.5 miles.
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 6 miles (10 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Sycamore Crest Trail is a 1.5 mile out and back trail near Avila Beach, best used for hiking, nature trips, and running.

This trail is rated as moderate because of its 500ft elevation gain over a short distance. It might not seem like a challenge, but this can be a pretty tough workout.

It may be short, but the panoramic views of the North Pacific make this worth taking the time out for. The incline is constant, but the reward at the top makes it worth the effort.

The only issue is parking. Sycamore Mineral Spring Resort, where the trail starts, doesn’t allow parking. So the only option is to park at the Bob Jones Trailhead mentioned above. This will extend the hike by another 1.5 miles, but this hike is worth it.

Overall, this beautiful, heavily trafficked trail is well-maintained, and the hard-packed dirt track should be easy to navigate for most, even if the incline is a little challenging.

4. Ontario Ridge and Shell Beach Bluff Loop

  • Highlight: Steep climb to the ridge with spectacular ocean vistas, then a gentle descent with neighborhood section; great for MTBs.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 2.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 746 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h 30min
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Pirate’s Cove Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 8 miles (15 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Ontario Ridge and Shell Beach Bluff Loop is a 2.9-mile trail near Avila Beach, primarily used for hiking, birdwatching, and dog walking.

This trail is moderate, with 746ft of elevation. It is partially paved, but a rockier portion to the ridge requires some persistence.

The trail has terrific views of the ocean and Pirates Cove from Ontario Ridge. Hills and vineyards can also be seen from the ridge, which offers something a little different to admire.

The descent can be tricky on the ankles, as it’s rocky and requires a lot of attention to make sure you don’t slip.

Still, this route is heavily trafficked because the views are some of the best of any hiking trails near Pismo Beach and the surrounding areas.

5. Monarch Butterfly Grove and Meadow Butterfly Trail

  • Highlight: Gorgeous boardwalk trail with lots of wildlife and birds; many short side trails to explore; very flat but not for bikes.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 15 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: On the Verge: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 1 mile (3 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Monarch Butterfly Grove and Meadow Buttery Fly Trail is a 1.5 mile out and back trail near Pismo Beach, perfect for hiking and nature trips.

This trail is easy for all skill levels, rising just 15ft across the entire route. It’s a well-developed area too, with restrooms at either end.

Ocean can still be seen from here, but really, it’s the monarch butterflies, birds, and other wildlife people come for. It is a perfect slice of nature, right by the Pacific!

Some keen hikers complain that this is just a nature walk, but either way, the views are incredible, and the chance to walk amongst the eucalyptus and melaleuca trees is unique.

It may not be challenging for hikers, but it’s definitely worth a visit for the beautiful butterflies and ocean views alone.

6. Oso Flaco Lake Trail

  • Highlight: Short boardwalk trail past the lake, dunes leading to the beach; perfect for birding.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 40 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Trailhead Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Dog Friendly: No

Oso Flaco Lake Trail is a 2.3 mile out and back trail near Nipomo, primarily used for birdwatching and nature trips.

This trail is easy for all skill levels, rising just 40ft in total. It’s also partially paved, which makes this trail even easier to navigate.

Passing over Oso Flaco Lake (which offers some fantastic spots to sit back and take in the view of the water), this trail eventually leads to the edge of the ocean, where you can rest and soak in the atmosphere.

It is another trail that won’t challenge keen hikers, but it’s one of the best hiking trails near Pismo Beach for families.

There are picnic spots at the beach at the turnaround point and great places to relax on the boardwalk over Oso Flaco Lake. Overall, it’s a perfect spot for a fun-filled day out!

7. Pismo Reserve Inner Loop

Pismo Reserve Inner Loop
  • Highlight: Another option at beautiful Pismo Reserve; combines Lone Oak, Discovery, and High Road trails into the stunning loop hike.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 755 feet
  • Time to Complete: 2h 30min
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Preserve Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 2 miles (5 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Pismo Reserve Inner Loop is a 5.4-mile hike near Pismo Beach, mainly used for hiking, running, and dog walking.

This trail is moderate, with 755ft of elevation gain. It is an alternative option at the Pismo Reserve for those wanting to explore further.

It covers several points of interest mentioned in the first hike but takes you to a different area of the reserve.

Some hikers complain that the first mile of the loop doesn’t have much to see besides a cattle grazing area. But once you’ve climbed a little further, it becomes a worthwhile adventure with panoramic ocean views.

This trail is well-developed because it’s in the stunning Pismo Preserve, and the clear markings make exploring this area a breeze.

8. Johnson Ranch Loop

  • Highlight: Very popular loop away from the ocean; classic Californian landscape with rolling hills and singletracks; perfect for running and MTBs.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 433 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h 30min
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Trailhead Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 8 miles (10 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Johnson Ranch Loop is a 3.3-mile loop trail Avila Beach, used primarily for hiking and mountain biking.

The trail is easy for all skill levels, rising just 433ft. The track is slightly rocky but easy to navigate with sensible footwear.

The area is dedicated to views of the Californian landscape and is especially beautiful in spring and summer when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Some hikers have complained about the lack of shade on this route, so bring sun protection and plenty of water.

This hike is fun, with some slightly more challenging steeper sections to offer more of a hiking experience than some of the other trails covered in this list so far.

9. Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park

  • Highlight: Very scenic hike a short distance away; stunning ocean views with rugged coastline; gorgeous poppy displays. 
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 231 feet
  • Time to Complete: 2h
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Trailhead Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 25 miles (35 min)
  • Dog Friendly: No

Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park is a 4.2 mile out and back trail, primarily used for hiking, running, and birdwatching.

This trail is easy for all skill levels and rises 231ft in total. It’s a scenic hike that shouldn’t pose too many problems for most people.

The highlight of this trail has to be the beautiful Californian Poppy displays, which are colorful and worth the trip by themselves. Add in the sweeping views of the ocean along the bluff, and it becomes even more special.

Parts of the trail are a little muddy, so bring old shoes and hiking boots to combat this.

Overall, it’s a beautiful, scenic hike by the ocean, offering some great photo opportunities of the water and Californian Poppies.

10. Valencia Peak Trail

  • Highlight: Top-rated trail to the peak with killer ocean views; sun-exposed, rocky terrain with gradual incline; must-do.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,267 feet
  • Time to Complete: 2h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Trailhead Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 25 miles (35 min)
  • Dog Friendly: No

Valencia Peak Trail is a 4.3 mile out and back hike near Los Osos, used chiefly by hikers looking for the opportunity to view the ocean from a peak.

The trail is moderately difficult, with 1,267ft of elevation. The path is rocky, too, so sturdy hiking boots are a must.

Valencia Peak stands at 1,329ft and offers impressive views of the Pacific Ocean, but on clear days can also provide great views of Morro Bay, Cayucos, and even Cambria.

The rocks on the trail make it more difficult, and so does the lack of shade. But preparation with sun protection and hiking boots will help.

This route is perfect for those looking for hiking trails near Pismo Beach that offer more of a challenge while still offering sweeping ocean views.

11. Cerro San Luis Obispo Trail

  • Highlight: Fun climb with moderate incline and wide paths; stunning views of the valley and neighboring peaks; top workout.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 944 feet
  • Time to Complete: 2h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Trailhead Lot: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 12 miles (15 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Cerro San Luis Obispo Trail is a 4 mile out and back trail near Obispo, used for hiking, nature trips, and running for intense workouts.

The trail is moderately difficult, rising 944ft. But really, it’s the rocky terrain and lack of shade that gives this one its difficulty.

Cerro San Luis Obispo stands at 1,270ft and offers terrific views of the valley below and neighboring peaks. The fun with this hike is the challenging incline towards the summit.

Yet, the main problem with it is the poorly marked route. All the trails in this specific area seem to lack signage, so a GPS map is recommended.

Still, once on the correct route, it’s well-maintained and not too tricky to navigate. Just bring hiking boots, sun protection, and plenty of water.

12. Islay Hill Trail

  • Highlight: Short climb to the peak with sweeping valley views; similar to the above hike but easier and shorter.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 492 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Sweet Bay Lane: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 11 miles (15 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Islay Hill Trail is a 1.6 mile out and back trail near San Luis Obispo, primarily used for hiking, running, and dog walking.

This trail is rated as moderate and rises 492ft. The dirt path is simple to navigate but bring sun protection and lots of water.

Islay Hill stands at 755ft and is the easternmost hill among The Nine Sisters. From the top, expect vistas of San Luis Obispo and the Edna Valley below. There’s even a 10ft climbing pole at the peak to make the most of the views.

Some people complain that the trail itself is boring, but standing on one of The Nine Sisters peaks is special. They’re steep, volcanic pinnacles offering some of the best views over the county.

Overall, this short hike may not take long to complete, but standing at the top of Islay Hill is lovely. And the path there is well established and easy to follow.

13. Bishop Peak Trail

  • Highlight: The highest of the nearby peaks; fun climb with a small scramble up top; sweeping panorama all along.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 999 feet
  • Time to Complete: 1h 45min
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Highland Drive: Google Maps
  • Distance from Pismo Beach: 14 miles (30 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Bishop Peak Trail is a 3.4 mile out and back trail near San Luis Obispo, used primarily for hiking and nature trips.

This trail is another moderately difficult one, with an elevation gain of 999ft in total. The rocky path is rugged in places but navigable.

Bishop Peak stands at 1,493ft and is the tallest of all The Nine Sisters. It’s surrounded by the Bishop Peak Nature Reserve, has an excellent view of San Luis Obispo County, and is perfect for birdwatching.

The majority of the trail is exposed to the sun, so be sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, and some sun protection.

This trail is a treat and one of the most rewarding hiking trails near Pismo Beach. Climbing the tallest of The Nine Sisters is exciting, and the well-maintained path makes it possible for most hikers.

Final Thoughts

Californian coastline attracts thousands of visitors to Pismo Beach every year. And one of the best ways to explore a new area is to hike there. 

Pismo Beach trails offer sweeping ocean views, coastal hikes, peak climbs, and wildlife-rich adventures. Hopefully, the list above inspired you to put shoes on and venture out and explore!

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