It can feel like stealing when you snag great views from an easy hike. This is the situation on the 2-mile loop to Portola Point in Morro Bay State Park, which ascends 315 feet to panoramic views over Morro Bay. The view-to-effort ratio on this hike is quite favorable, almost criminal.
Portola Hill is a dome-shaped volcanic rise on the eastern edge of Morro Estuary. The 329-foot hill is not big enough to be ranked among the notable Morros of San Luis Obispo, but it is tall enough to offer great ocean views. Start from a free parking area on South Bay Boulevard and begin up Quarry Trail, departing from the northeast corner of the lot. 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). Hike another third of a mile east beneath the rocky southern face of Cerro Cabrillo. You may spend less time looking forward than you do looking over your shoulder, appreciating the expanding view of Morro Bay and the sand dunes separating this sanctuary from the ocean beyond.
Morro Bay from Quarry Trail
Half a mile from the start, turn right at the marked junction with Live Oak Trail. If you continued straight, you could strike for the summit of Cerro Cabrillo. After gaining about 225 feet on Quarry Trail, Live Oak Trail eases downhill across a grassy meadow hanging between Cerro Cabrillo and Portola Hill. After another 0.17 miles, when the trail splits, make two quick right turns to find Portola Trail and begin ascending the north side of Portola Hill. A quarter-mile climb brings you to a small loop around the sage and oak-covered summit, allowing you to take in the views in every direction.
Portola Hill from Live Oak Trail
Have a seat at the bench at the south end of Portola Point and enjoy the finest perspective yet over Morro Bay. What birds can you spot? Great blue heron, snowy egret, double-crested cormorant, and many other fliers reside in the thriving estuary on the east side of Morro Bay. At low tide, Portola Point reveals canals running through the estuary, but if you reach the top a high tide, these veins will be submerged as the estuary expands to a giant basin of vivid blue water. Black Hill and Morro Rock are visible to the northwest, while Los Osos and the mountains of Montaña de Oro rise up the south. It is a panoramic view worthy of a much more challenging hike!
Morro Rock from Portola Hill
Head back down the hill facing Cerro Cabrillo. Notice the pointed outcropping on its southeastern slope named Tiki Rock. At the bottom of Portola Trail, make a pair of quick rights to resume looping around Portola Hill on Live Oak Trail. Pass through a small oak grove wedged in a gap between Portola Hill and a 500-foot taller hill to the east. After less than a quarter mile, reach an unmarked junction and turn right up a short rise to remain on Live Oak Trail. The single track levels out for the next quarter mile aiming west around the base of Portola Hill toward Morro Bay. Make a final right turn (always turn right on this hike!) to return to the south end of the trailhead after a short concrete walkway.
There are no bathrooms at the trailhead and dogs are not welcome on this hike. No fee or permit is required to hike to Portola Point in Morro Bay State Park, 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 view the trail (in purple) and get directions:
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