Mar 15, 2019

Best spring hikes around the Morro Bay estuary


This year, the hills and valleys that surround the Morro Bay estuary are alive with green grasses and golden poppies just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. If you take a closer look, you’ll also see the deep pinks and purples of hummingbird sage, the dawn-sky blue and light purple hues of wild hyacinth, and the bright colors of many more wildflowers.

Hummingbird sage, salvia-spathacea.
Hummingbird sage, salvia-spathacea.
Wild hyacinth, sometimes called blue dick flower, grows along trails in upper Morro Bay State Park.
Wild hyacinth, sometimes called blue dick flower, grows along trails in upper Morro Bay State Park. Photograph courtesy of Teddy Llovett, via Flickr Creative Commons license.

Today, we’re sharing some of our favorite springtime hikes in the Morro Bay watershed.

Family-friendly hikes

We’re lucky to have quite a few hikes for the whole family around Morro Bay. Here are a few that will let you to enjoy the bright green hills and pops of color at a leisurely pace.

Black Hill

The hike up Black Hill, one of the Nine Sisters, is a local favorite. It offers a birds’ eye view of the estuary and the watershed, and you can choose whether to do a longer hike of about 3 miles round-trip, or a shorter version of only .6 miles. If you look east from the top of the hill, you’ll see several of the creeks that empty into the estuary. Volunteers from our monitoring program visit sites along these creeks to test water quality and bacteria levels monthly, whenever water is flowing there.

For the shorter hike, drive up past the golf course, and park at the Black Hill Trailhead. Follow the dirt path uphill until you reach the boulder-studded top. Whether it’s foggy or clear, it’s a beautiful view, and you’ll often see sticky monkey flower and black sage in bloom along the trail.

Elfin Forest

The Elfin Forest gets its name from the miniature California Live Oaks that have been growing here for centuries. An accessible, 1-mile boardwalk trail takes you through this beautiful forest and shows you many of the different habitat types native to this region. With so much biodiversity, there are new blooms to see around each turn of the trail. Visit the Elfin Forest’s website to see what flora and fauna you’re likely to find along the way. This hike also gives you a great view of the estuary!

View from the Elfin Forest's boardwalk path near sunset.
View from the Elfin Forest’s boardwalk path near sunset.

SWAP (Small Wilderness Areas Preservation) maintains the forest, and offers some docent–led walks and talks on the third Saturday of each month.

Marina Peninsula Trail

This accessible boardwalk trail is only .5 miles long, and it begins close to the parking lot at the Morro Bay State Park Marina. It winds through a variety of habitats, and offers views of the Morros, the salt marsh, the mud flats, the sandspit, the estuary, and Morro Rock. You’ll also find a variety of flowering plants that grow along the boardwalk path.

More strenuous hikes in the watershed

The following hikes are more strenuous and will lead you to the top of those spring-green hills.

Portola Point

This hike begins at the Quarry Trail and winds up and into the hills, giving you a panoramic view of the estuary, the watershed, and beyond.

This picture captures a beautiful view from the Portola Point trail. Photograph courtesy of Norma Wightman
This picture captures a beautiful view from the Portola Point trail. Photograph courtesy of Norma Wightman.

During the spring, you can see dozens of wildflower species if you time it just right. Soap plants are just one of the flower species that you can find in the hills of upper Morro Bay State Park. The flowers of the soap plant are white and three-petaled; they open between the late afternoon and early evening. Watch this beautiful timelapse video of a soap plant flower opening by local photographer Marlin Harms.

The flowers of the soap plant open in the late afternoon to early evening. This photograph is courtesy of JKehoe_Photos via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Turtle Rock

The hike up 200-foot Turtle Rock also begins on the Quarry Trail, and ends between Cerro Cabrillo and Black Hill, offering a great view of the Morros and the estuary.

Valencia Peak

This challenging hike is located south of the Morro Bay watershed in Montaña de Oro State Park, but it gives you a gorgeous view of the Morro Bay estuary and Estero Bay beyond. If possible, time your hike so that the marine layer burns off before you reach the summit. (Remember to bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen!) That way, you’ll see the estuary and Morro Rock shrouded in mist as you hike up, and you’ll watch them shine in the sun as you make your way down.

Valencia peak rises in the background of this photograph. Courtesy of Joyce Corey via Flickr Creative Commons License.


Help us protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary!

  • Come see S.L.O.P.E.’s show Flowing Estuary to Living Sea,  at the Morro Bay State Park Natural History Museum now through March 31, 2019. A portion of proceeds from art sales will benefit the Morro Bay National Estuary Program and the Central Coast State Parks Association. We hope to see you there! On Saturday, March 30, you can even meet the Plein Air painters in person at the closing reception. Just stop by between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. to say hello!

Watch the video below for a preview of more artwork from the show.

Thank you for your support!