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- GPX file: https://www.overlandbound.com/map-location/10174
- Track Length: 2.59 miles (short and sweet!)
- Track Duration: 15 minutes.
- Difficulty Rating: EASY
- Track Conditions: Dirt, well-graded. Single lane, oncoming vehicles possible.
- Recommended Vehicle: Any vehicle. Could be tricky in wet conditions.
- Camping: No camping along the route.
- Notes: This track is used for cycling, hiking, and walking the dog. While it is open to vehicles, keep a lookout for pedestrians and cyclists and yield right of way. The route is bordered by private property. Obey no-trespassing signs at all times.
In this second episode of our “Off The Beaten Track” series, we investigate the Old Stagecoach Road on the Cuesta Grade, north of San Luis Obispo, California.
This single-lane dirt track is the second of four known versions of this route up the Cuesta Grade – Cuesta means “slope” or “grade,” so taking the name literally, this is the Grade Grade! The Franciscan Padres who founded the mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772 built the first version of this road.
The Franciscans were eager to connect the mission at San Luis Obispo with missions to the north, such as Mission San Antonio de Padua at Jolon, founded a year earlier in 1771 and 70 miles to the north, and eventually to Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Ro Carmelo, founded in 1770 and 140 miles to the north. The remains of that first track can still be seen in the valley between Old Stage Coach Rd and the current US 101 freeway, but they are behind locked gates and are no longer accessible to vehicles.
Following the 1849 Gold Rush, the Old Stagecoach Road was built around 1876. California’s economy was booming, which created a demand for transportation, which stagecoach companies sprang up to meet. Stagecoaches would initially travel down the old Padre Trail, which was so steep that passengers were instructed to dismount in case something went wrong.
The city of San Luis Obispo was expanding, and a better route into and out of town from the north was required. Chinese crews were hired in 1876 to perform the blasting and digging required to lay a new, improved route.
This road was less steep than the Padre’s Trail, but it was still relatively steep, and with the introduction of the motor vehicle around the turn of the century, the Old Stage Coach road was deemed too narrow and steep for two-way motorized traffic.
As a result, by 1923, a new wider route up Cuesta Canyon, 24 feet wide with a concrete surface, had been built. This new road was designated as US Route 101 in 1926. The Old Stage Coach Road was still used by horse-drawn carriages. The first version of the 101 is still clearly visible and even accessible for a short distance at the bottom of the grade where it meets the Old Stagecoach Road.
The current US 101 route can be traced back to the late 1930s, when the existing route was straightened and widened, a trend that has continued to the present day, with the modern 6-lane freeway running about a third to a half mile away from the Old Stagecoach Road route.
We prefer the slower pace of this old trail to the admittedly faster but occasionally hair-raising (if you allow your vehicle to gain too much momentum on the downhill side) US 101 freeway.
Check out the other tracks in our Off The Beaten Track series.
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