Virtual Guidebook to El Camino Real
Cuesta Pass Over the Santa Lucia Range
north of San Luis Obispo California


Cuesta Pass crosses the divide between the Salinas River valley to the north and the San Luis Obispo coastal valleys to the south. It is a fairly easy route over the formidable barrier of the Santa Lucia Range, climbing in a single steady grade from just above sea level on the south side to an elevation of 1522 feet.

Such a convenient gap has of course been historically important. It was followed by the Portola expedition of 1769, became the horse path of El Camino Real, upgraded to a wagon road in 1876, then a narrow concrete highway in 1923. In the meantime the Southern Pacific Railroad chose this route in 1894, though it cut under the summit in a long tunnel.

Modern Highway 101 is now 6 lanes and divided, but the original Padre Trail, the dirt Stagecoach Road, the railroad, and parts of the two lane highway are all still visible and in some cases even accessible.



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The Cuesta Grade on Highway 101 north of San Luis Obispo

(February 25, 2006)


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Cuesta Ridge west of Highway 101

(February 25, 2006)


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Parasailers launched from Cuesta Ridge

(February 25, 2006)


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Sargent cypress in the Cuesta Ridge Botanical Area

(February 25, 2006)


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Cuesta Ridge, near Cerro Alto

(February 25, 2006)


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Sargent cypress forest regrowth after fire

(February 25, 2006)


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Old growth Sargent cypress forest

(February 25, 2006)


Next Locality: Mission San Luis Obispo