There are nine principle volcanic plugs spread between the central coast cities of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. The 911-foot Cerro Cabrillo (or Cabrillo Peak) is the third of the Nine Sisters from the west after Morro Rock and Black Hill. The summit of Cerro Cabrillo is the highest point in Morro Bay State Park, offering panoramic oceanfront views. The unmaintained trail to the summit passes Tiki Rock, an unmistakable boulder near the top of the peak resembling those carved by Polynesians. It is 2.5 miles round trip to the summit with 900 feet of elevation gain. The trail is slippery and rutted in areas, and some light rock climbing is required to top the boulder-covered summit.
Begin from a trailhead on the east side of South Bay Boulevard across from Morro Estuary between the cities of Los Osos and Morro Bay. Take Quarry Trail, heading northeast toward Cerro Cabrillo. Hike 0.17 miles to a junction with Chorro Trail and angle right to remain on Quarry Trail. Chorro Trail heads north for 0.9 miles to Turtle Rock, a mini-summit between Cerro Cabrillo and Black Hill. You may see mountain climbers tackling bluffs on the rocky southern face of Cerro Cabrillo as you continue another third of a mile east to a junction with Live Oak Trail on the right. This trail can be used to reach Portola Point for an impressive overview of Morro Bay. For Cerro Cabrillo continue hiking east through a meadow of grass and sage in the direction of Hollister Peak. There are great over-the-shoulder views of Morro Bay on this first half mile of the hike.
Portola Hill and Morro Bay from Quarry Trail
About a quarter mile past the junction with Live Oak Trail, take the first available left, departing up a grassy slope on a dirt single track aimed directly at Tiki Rock, an orange head-shaped boulder jutting out of the mountainside 75 feet below the crown.
The trail to Tiki Rock and the summit of Cerro Cabrillo is not maintained by the park, which becomes apparent as you hike up a steep track of rutted and loose dirt. There are paths diverging to the left and right, but stick to the main trail heading up the mountain toward Tiki Rock. The surrounding slopes of sage provide open views and a pleasant fragrance along the trail.
Hiking up the unmaintained trail toward Tiki Rock
After climbing 525 feet above Quarry Trail in 0.4 miles, you will come even with Tiki Rock. To the left, a spur trail extends a hundred feet to the impressive pillar. To reach the top, angle to the right up a use trail over suddenly rocky terrain. Curl around the right side of a cone-shaped boulder and push for the top, scrambling over and around boulders on a worn, but less-traveled track to the summit. Beware of poison oak striking up around the rocks as you climb 0.05 miles above Tiki Rock to the peak of Cerro Cabrillo.
Climbing the rocky trail to the summit (with Hollister Peak in the background)
The view from the top is worth the effort. Look west across a rocky saddle toward a second slightly-shorter summit of Cerro Cabrillo. Off the north side of the mountain is Black Hill, Morro Rock, and miles of beach stretching toward San Simeon. To the south is Morro Bay, Los Osos, and the mountains of Montaña de Oro State Park, including Valencia Peak (another summit with excellent ocean views). The 1,404-foot Hollister Peak rises to the southeast and Chorro Valley and the Santa Lucia Mountains can be seen to the east. It is a fantastic coastal panorama.
Black Hill, Morro Rock, and the beaches to the north
After enjoying the 360 degree views, return the way you came. Despite only being the 6th tallest of the Nine Sisters, Cerro Cabrillo delivers a strenuous hike. To extend your time in Morro Bay State Park, consider hiking to Turtle Rock (adding 1.8 miles) or Portola Point (adding 1.5). Both of these short overlapping hikes make a great warm-up for Cerro Cabrillo. Dogs are not permitted on trails in Morro Bay State Park. No fee or permit is required to hike Cerro Cabrillo, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Highway 1 in Morro Bay, take exit 277, following signs for Los Osos and Baywood Park. Turn south on South Bay Boulevard and drive 1.4 miles to the trailhead parking area, set a few meters back from the road on the left. From the 101 Freeway south of San Luis Obispo, take exit 200A onto Los Osos Valley Road and drive 9.8 miles west to South Bay Boulevard. Turn right and drive 2.6 miles north to the trailhead on the right, 0.4 miles past Turri Road.
Trailhead address: South Bay Boulevard, Morro Bay, CA 93442
Trailhead coordinates: 35.346512, -120.825198 (35° 20′ 47.44″N 120° 49′ 30.71″W)
Use the map below to create your own directions:
This easy 2.1-mile hike reaches a short rise between Black Hill and Cerro Cabrillo in Morro Bay State Park.
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