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Hikers will need night passes to see Cerro San Luis holiday tree this year

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Angel Russell
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The tree typically stays up until the first week of January.

On top of Cerro San Luis in San Luis Obispo is an 80-foot-tall holiday tree. People are encouraged to hike up at night to check it out, but hikers will need a permit starting next week.

Every night, little specks of light from headlamps and flashlights shine from Cerro San Luis as people trek up to see the famous lighted holiday tree.

Chris Jones is one of the hikers.

“I’ve never done it before," Jones said. "I’ve never hiked at dark.”

The holiday tree is put on by the Madonna Inn staff. It’s a tradition that runs deep with the hotel's history that started when Alex and Phyllis Madonna first opened the famous attraction.

“Alex and Phyllis opened the Madonna Inn on Christmas Eve in 1958," Amanda Rich with the Madonna Inn said. "So, Christmas has always been near and dear to their heart.”

Rich said every night during the holidays since the 1970s, staff go up and light the tree, which takes 10 gallons of diesel fuel a night to stay lit.

“So they have to refill it, and light it and make sure it's on," Rich said. "People expect it, so if it’s not lit, somebody will be calling us and saying ‘Hey, where is the Christmas tree?'"

The tree sits at the top of the hill, where people often socialize and share holiday snacks.

Mark Haley said it's a tradition for him and his friends to come up every year. He encourages people to try it out.

“It takes about 50 minutes to come up, about 50 minutes to go down," Haley said. "You’ll meet a lot of people on the way up and way down. This hike is easy, go do it!”

Hikers will need a winter evening pass starting December 17, which is limited to 65 people a day. The passes are free, but they do run out, so people are encouraged to get a pass early.

Park rangers say they will be out checking for night passes, which hikers can print out or show on their phone.

Hikers can obtain a pass on December 17th by clicking here.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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