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Reserve your energy: Reservoir Canyon is pretty sweet all around, but it's best if you make it to the top 

The trek up Reservoir Canyon is not for hiking newbies.

Yes, there's a little trail that takes visitors down to a waterfall near the parking area, but don't kid yourself—that's not the hike, that's the little treat at the end of your 5-mile-plus trip. And although a little less than 2 miles in, there's a sweet meadow with a swing in a eucalyptus tree, a corrugated metal teepee, and a view of the surrounding hills, that's just a halfway point, regardless of what anybody's told you.

click to enlarge APRIL SHOWERS If we get rain, the top of Reservoir Canyon could look like it did in 2016, covered in wildflowers with green all around. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • APRIL SHOWERS If we get rain, the top of Reservoir Canyon could look like it did in 2016, covered in wildflowers with green all around.

The real breathtaking part of this hike is the second half of the trip, the one that pretty much takes you straight up an open rocky hillside almost 1.5 miles farther to the summit. It literally takes your breath away.

I always tell people that it's best to do the canyon as early in the morning as possible, before the sun actually feels hot, as the fog's burning off. But it's overcast and cool on the Saturday my friend and I head up there, which is good because it's 10 a.m. when we meet up at the trailhead in the Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve north of San Luis Obispo.

There's still more than a trickle of water in Reservoir Canyon Creek, which hasn't always been the case in the last few years. Willow, alder, and bay trees sway with shades between green and yellow along the riparian corridor, a gentle walk over the creek and through the woods until it starts to climb a little more than a mile in.

The aforementioned meadow/swing spot is a great place to rest. My friend chooses the swing, I choose a rock, and my dog chooses not to rest. We discover that one of the odd-looking metal sculptures is gone and chitchat over the mooing of cows on neighboring hillsides before deciding to continue our ascent.

Even though it's only about 60 degrees, I start sweating about a quarter mile into the second leg. My dog is panting and seeking out shade—I honestly believe he hates this part of the hike. We climb, resting occasionally before trudging upward. Eventually, we see the end, as the trail opens up into a wide tabletop of a meadow, with glimpses of Pismo Beach all the way to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes stretching south, while Morro Rock is barely visible at the end of the chain of morros in the hazy distance to the east and the city of San Luis Obispo extends between us, Bishop Peak, and the Edna Valley.

This view doesn't suck.

click to enlarge BENCHED My roommate and my dog take a rest at the top of Murray Hill above Reservoir Canyon. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • BENCHED My roommate and my dog take a rest at the top of Murray Hill above Reservoir Canyon.

The trail T's into the Ridge Trail, and three adults with three dogs are heading toward us from the old radio tower to our right. And we head left to the summit of Murray Hill, where another set of hikers is hogging the views from a U-shaped stone bench. This really is one of my favorite day hikes in the county. In the spring, it's gorgeous green and consumed with the magenta of shooting stars and orange of poppies.

It's a push to get to the top, but I'm never disappointed. As we head back down to the creek, we talk about making sure we don't miss the waterfall at the trailhead, which is definitely worth the trip from the parking lot. Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham thinks you should get your ass of the couch at clanham@newtimesslo.com.


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