By Brayden Appell and Justin Milton
If you are tired of quarantine forcing you to do the same old thing day after day after day, try mixing it up with the Tri Tip Challenge. No, this is not some sort of eating contest for meat lovers, but instead a rigorous set of three local hikes. The goal of the challenge is to make it to the top of the Cal Poly “P,” Madonna Mountain, and Bishop Peak in one day, and then reward yourself for climbing the tri tips with a tri tip sandwich.
For anyone who is interested in being out in nature and pushing yourself physically, here is our rundown on how to successfully complete the Tri Tip Challenge.
The Tri Tip Challenge should not be completed without proper preparation. When we did it, it took about six hours between all of the hiking and driving, and that is not including the meal afterwards. Make sure that there is ample time to finish before sunset, because hiking in the dark can be dangerous.
It is also important to have a plan not just considering daylight, but also the human need for food and water. Luckly, the Tri Tip Challenge is broken up into three sections that all need to be driven to, meaning that food and water can be stored in a vehicle and not lugged up the side of a mountain.
Hike 1: Cal Poly “P”
Easily the least traversed hike in this challenge, the Cal Poly “P” is also the least strenuous. The trailhead can’t be found on Google Maps, so we would recommend looking at this map and entering “Klamath Road” with a navigation app to get there. There is a $5 fee for parking in the closest parking lot.
The trail itself is very well maintained and the view from the “P” is great, even if it is the shortest of the trails. Enjoy a few minutes on the scaffolding around the “P,” snap a picture, and then head back down. This hike may be a breeze, but don’t be fooled, the Tri Tip Challenge has just barely begun.
Hike 2: Madonna Mountain
Officially named Cerro San Luis Obispo, Madonna Mountain is owned by the Madonna family. They generously keep it open for public use, unlike some of the other private mountains in SLO County (do NOT attempt to hike Hollister Peak, Cerro Romauldo, or Chumash Peak, as they are also privately owned and closed to the public). The ideal route for this challenge is starting on the Lemon Grove Loop and then taking a left onto the Rock Garden Trail, although you can also start from the back of Laguna Lake Park and work your way up from there to increase the challenge.
The hike to the peak is not terribly difficult, although there is much more ground to cover than the Cal Poly “P.” The rocky top offers many natural seats that combined with the view make an ideal lunch spot, if the added weight of food going uphill is not a deterrent. Bishop Peak is visible from the top of Madonna Mountain, and completing the second hike marks that the challenge is more than halfway complete.
Hike 3: Bishop Peak
It wouldn’t be a challenge without a strenuous finale, and that is exactly what Bishop Peak has to offer. There are two main trailheads, we recommend the one that starts on Highland Drive. Be sure to park respectfully, as there is no official parking lot.
Bishop Peak starts deceptively simple, but really ramps up at the end. After climbing the other two mountains, this hike is no joke. However, reaching the top and looking down upon the Cal Poly “P” and Madonna Mountain, along with the rest of San Luis Obispo, gives quite the sense of accomplishment. It may be surprising to hear that this is not necessarily the most rewarding part of the afternoon.
Dinner: Firestone Grill
After climbing the three peaks, it is only suitable to have tri-tip sandwiches at Firestone Grill. The meal is not only symbolic of the challenging journey, but it is also delicious. The outdoor dining on the patio makes this attraction COVID-safe as well.
Sunset-Safe Tri Tip Challenge: Perhaps the only thing that could make the Tri Tip Challenge better is enjoying a beautiful sunset. Hiking down Bishop peak in the dark is not advisable, but if the order of the hikes is swapped so the Cal Poly “P” is not the first but the last hike, getting down in the dark becomes much more manageable. It would still be smart to pack a flashlight!
Tri Tip + Challenge: There are more than three local mountains, and there is no reason for an adventurous hiker not to add them to their day of fun. Black Hill, Cerro Cabillo, and Islay Hill could all be great additions.
Hiking is a great way to get outdoors during COVID. The trails are certainly populated most days, so bring a mask to put on when passing others, but other than that, the Tri Tip Challenge is a good way to escape from the troubles of the world. Look out for more articles about COVID-safe activities coming soon on The Spyglass.