The San Luis Obispo Tri-Tip Challenge

Hiking is an easy and affordable thing to do in San Luis Obispo. Not only is it great exercise, but the surroundings of San Luis Obispo, including the rolling hills and sometimes even the ocean, create the best scenery .

“The best part is always arriving to the peak and just being able to view SLO from a different perspective and just take in where you live,” said Shirin Beroukhim looking back on her favorite hiking memories. “I really enjoy seeing the green hills all surrounding me because I see those on a daily basis, but you get to see them from a new perspective when hiking.”

But the most adventurous of those who live in SLO participate in what is known as the Tri-Tip Challenge

This challenge consists of hiking three main peaks in the San Luis Obispo area: the Cal Poly “P”, Cerro San Luis Obispo (Madonna) and Bishops Peak. Participants then complete the challenge with a classic tri-tip sandwich from SLO’s Firestone Grill. This adventure, however, should definitely be planned ahead being that it will take at least five hours out of your day, depending on one’s hiking (and eating) speed.

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How To Prepare:

  • Bring lots of water
  • Bring snacks like an apple or granola bar to keep energy up while hiking
  • Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburns
  • Get a good night’s sleep

” Go with a healthy and determined group so that you all can help motivate each other to finish,” said recent ‘Tri-Tip Challenge Survivor’ Kelly Toppenberg. “The hardest aspect of the Tri-Tip challenge is simply not giving up, turning back, or ending early.”


Hike Number One: the Cal Poly “P”

The Cal Poly “P’ is considered the easiest of the three hikes. Access to this trail is right behind the Cal Poly “red brick” dorms and is an easy 20 minute hike. The hike consists of two routes, one more steeper than the other. Students enjoy taking the hike as a way of stress release or to even paint the “P’ after getting approval from the right people. When reaching the top, hikers behold a view of the whole Cal Poly campus as well as the mystery behind the hills. This hike is popular at sunset in which the hills provide a great scenery to catch the sun as it sets.

View of the beautiful sunset from the peak of the "P."

View of the beautiful sunset from the peak of the “P.”


Hike Number Two: Cerro San Luis Obispo (Madonna)

Madonna is easily recognized by the large white “M” on its west side. Although most think the “M” stands for Madonna, the family who owns the land, its actual representation is for Mission High School. The Cerro San Luis Obispo, more commonly known as Madonna, hike can be accessed by multiple trails. Its most common entrance begins off of Marsh Street. The hike begins in the grassy hills and progresses into a steep dirt trail to the top of the mountain in which you meet the view of San Luis Obispo County. The trial is approximately four miles.

Cerro San Luis Mountain is found in the foreground with Bishops Peak, our next hike, in the background.

Cerro San Luis Mountain is found in the foreground with Bishops Peak, our next hike, in the background.


Hike Three: Bishop’s Peak

Bishop’s Peak is the third and final hike of the Tri-Tip Challenge. Although steep towards the peak of the mountain, it is still found to be a town favorite. “It is the highest point in San Luis Obispo, so it provided the best view,” said Cal Poly student Jay Matsumoto. Reaching a peak of 1,559 feet, the hike is about 3.5 miles. There are three different trail options which start at Highland Drive, Foothill Boulevard, and Patricia Drive. When reaching the peak you can either rest at the two memorial benches presented or prepare for some rock climbing to reach an even higher point.

Jay Matsumoto looks out upon San Luis Obispo from the top of Bishop's Peak, his favorite hike so far in SLO.

Jay Matsumoto looks out upon San Luis Obispo from the top of Bishop’s Peak, his favorite hike so far in SLO.


The Finish Line: Firestone Grill

As mentioned in my post 5 Classic and Cheap Bites to Eat, Firestone Grill is a town favorite. Located in the heart of downtown SLO on Higuera Street, Firestone is most known for their hearty BBQ Tri-Tip sandwich for only $9.25. After hiking all day, a Tri-Tip sandwich after one’s ‘Tri-Peak’ accomplishment definitely serves as quite the award.

Most known for their BBQ tri-tip sandwiches and lively atmosphere, Firestone is the perfect spot to finish your long day of hiking and completing your Tri-Tip Challenge!

Most known for their BBQ tri-tip sandwiches and lively atmosphere, Firestone is the perfect spot to finish your long day of hiking and completing your Tri-Tip Challenge!


The Tri-Tip Challenge is a bucket list item for many in the area. Some even spend a week or two preparing to ensure their ability to finish. But the reward and bragging rights of completing the infamous “Challenge”is worth the blood, sweat and tears put into it.

“The best part of the Tri-Tip Challenge, asides from the food as a reward once it was over,” said Kelly Toppenberg, “was definitely sitting at the top of each mountain, looking out at San Luis Obispo just thinking about how thankful I am to live in such a beautiful place with such amazing people!”

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2 thoughts on “The San Luis Obispo Tri-Tip Challenge

  1. Pingback: Take A Minute For Some Reflection | SLO and on a Budget

  2. Pingback: Resources | The Local Tourist

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