Morro Rock is an iconic landmark on California’s Central Coast. Located north of San Luis Obispo, the 578-foot tall mass of volcanic rock rises above of the Pacific Ocean, separating the inviting sands of Morro Strand State Beach from the blue waters of Morro Bay Harbor. Starting from a protected coastal wetland along Highway One in Morro Bay, this easy beach hike crosses sand dunes into Morro Strand State Beach, where you can walk along the ocean to the wave-battered mini-mountain guarding the entrance of Morro Bay. It is half a mile from Cloisters Park to the beach, and another mile down Morro Strand State Beach to Morro Rock. Spin around to the south side of Morro Rock to stretch things out to a 3.5-mile round trip hike.
From the parking area, take one of several paths westward into Clusters Park, walking under a tenth of a mile to Morro Strand Trail, the coastal route to Morro Rock. There will be a field to your left where dogs can run around and a lagoon to your right where ducks can float around. Take a quick detour down a wooden boardwalk to the right to visit a viewing platform of the small lagoon.
When you reach Morro Strand Trail, turn left and head south toward Morro Strand State Beach (or take a side trip to the right to explore more of the Cloisters Wetland). As you walk down the level Morro Strand Trail, there will be low sand dunes to your right, protected by a white fence. Straight ahead, the treeless pyramid-shaped form of Morro Rock can be seen towering above the dunes.
Stay straight through the next junction, passing a path that links the trail to a nearby neighborhood. The paved trail transitions into an artificial boardwalk, bending through arroyo willows. Cross a short bridge over the 54th Street Channel to a T-junction and turn right, following a line of pines as they sweep south toward Morro Rock. The trail makes a hard right turn for the beach, and then you will begin walking on the sand. Enjoy a lovely view to the left toward Morro Rock above the dunes, as you follow a sandy path straight toward the ocean. It is roughly half a mile from the trailhead in Cloisters Park to the sand in Morro Strand State Beach.
When you reach the firm sand near the water’s edge, turn left, heading down the beach toward Morro Rock. Morro Strand State Beach is graced by sea breezes and rolling waves, presenting a long straight stretch of sand that ends at Morro Rock. As you enjoy the picturesque views of the massive rock straight ahead, be sure not to miss the broad over-the-shoulder views up the coast toward Cayucos and Cambria.
After 2/3 of a mile walking down the sand, you will reach the mouth of Little Morro Creek. After a good rain, you will have to wade through ankle or calf deep water to cross this seasonal creek (sandals and towels recommended), but there may be no water at all to cross during dry months.
Beyond Little Morro Creek, you may continue another third of a mile to the end of the beach, where the sand hits the basalt at Morro Rock. Cross a parking lot to reach Coleman Drive, which you may follow around the east side of Morro Rock to a breakwater at the mouth of Morro Bay.
The breakwater was constructed with boulders quarried from Morro Rock. There is no longer any quarrying on Morro Rock today as the California Historical Landmark is protected by Morro Rock State Preserve. Morro Rock is the westernmost peak in the Morros, a string of volcanic plugs running across San Luis Obispo County nicknamed the Seven Sisters or the Nine Sisters (depending on how well you count). Climbing up Morro Rock is prohibited, but if you would like to hike to the top of one of the other Morros, there are trails on five of the volcanic peaks: Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis, and Islay Hill.
It is 3.5 miles round trip to the south side of Morro Rock. Those with smaller ambitions can still enjoy a satisfying scenic day at the ocean by taking a shorter trip to any part on Morro Strand State Beach. The Beach continues north for two miles past the path connecting to Cloisters Park, allowing for longer walks on the beach.
Dog are allowed in Cloisters Park. They are not allowed on the beach in Morro Strand State Beach, but are allowed at the state park’s developed campground, which has 81 tightly-packed RV-friendly sites along the beach north of Cloisters Park. No fee or permit is required to hike Morro Strand Trail from Cloisters Park across Morro Strand State Beach to Morro Rock, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Highway One in Morro Bay (14.5 miles north of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo), exit on San Jacinto Street and drive west for one block to Coral Ave. Turn left and drive a third of a mile to the parking area for Cloisters Park, on the left.
Trailhead address: Cloisters Park, Coral Ave, Morro Bay, CA 93442
Trailhead coordinates: 35.38898, -120.860108 (35° 23′ 20.32″N 120° 51′ 36.38″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
|Black Hill |
This short 0.6-mile out and back hike ascends 175 feet to the summit of Black Hill, which presents 360-degree views over Morro Bay.
|Cerro Cabrillo |
This tough 2.5-mile hike summits the highest mountain in Morro Bay State Park, a 911-foot member of the Nine Sisters.
|Portola Point |
This 2-mile loop explores a short hill just east of Morro Estuary in Morro Bay State Park.
|Turtle Rock |
This easy 2.1-mile hike reaches a short rise between Black Hill and Cerro Cabrillo in Morro Bay State Park.
|Elfin Forest Natural Reserve |
This easy 1-mile loop on a boardwalk explores a pygmy forest on the edge of Morro Bay.
|Morro Dunes Ecological Reserve |
This 2.6-mile loop serves up panoramic views over Morro Bay as it ascends 800 feet from Los Osos to Montaña de Oro State Park.
|Cerro Alto |
This semi-loop bags the 2,624-foot summit of Cerro Alto, plus a scenic ridge south of the peak, for a 5.35-mile hike with 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
|Eagle Rock Nature Trail |
This 2.4-mile hike in El Chorro Regional Park climbs 450 feet to Eagle Rock Viewpoint for an overview of the valley between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.
|Moonstone Beach Boardwalk |
This 2.85-mile out and back hike crosses a boardwalk along a charming Cambria beach in Hearst San Simeon State Park.
|More hikes in San Luis Obispo |
Explore other trails around San Luis Obispo including Morro Bay State Park, Montaña de Oro State Park, and the Morros.