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El Moro Elfin Forest

On the southeastern shore of Morro Bay, this 90-acre nature preserve of pygmy oaks and dune scrub is a harsh environment for plants and animals. While oaks elsewhere in the region typically grow up to 50 feet, the trees here are stunted and range between 4 and 20 feet tall. An accessible wooden boardwalk winds in a loop around the preserve. Several viewing decks overlook the estuary and are great places to watch birdlife. More than 100 species have been seen here, including American kestrels, double-crested cormorants, black-crowned night herons, marbled godwits, red-shouldered hawks, and peregrine falcons. Pick up a trail guide at the entrance to identify species within the five native plant communities: coastal brackish marsh, riparian woodland, pygmy oak, chaparral, and coastal dune scrub. The organization Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP) leads guided nature walks on the third Saturday of the month, starting at 9:30 am; call (805) 528-0392. Wheelchair riders participating in a guided walk should enter at 16th Street and take the trail to the 15th Street entrance to join the tour. February's walk is usually a mushroom hunt and is not accessible.

Trail/Pathway Details

Trailhead: Main entrance, at foot of 16th Street off Santa Ysabel

Length: Under one mile total

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentle

To avoid going uphill on the one steep section of the trail, turn right at the start of the loop trail instead of left, as I did.

Terrain: Hard


The joy of this boardwalk trail was that it allowed me to focus all my attention on the surroundings instead of watching for rocks or ruts, which can be distracting on dirt or gravel trails. There is an 80-foot elevation change, but except for one steep spot, the trail is mostly level, with a few gently sloping sections. Level platforms and viewing decks offer plenty of resting stops throughout. Starting at the trail’s highest point, then turning left where the loop begins, you travel first through coastal dune scrub, with uninterrupted views of Morro Bay Estuary and Morro Rock. The Nine Sisters, or Morros, a series of ancient volcanic peaks, rise to the north and east. At two junctions you can veer off the main loop trail to viewing platforms with interpretive panels. Continuing on the loop, a gradual descent leads through the pygmy oak woodlands, which obscure views of the estuary. Lace lichen drapes the branches of the 200-year-old coast live oak trees, gracefully dancing in the breeze. Rising back out through maritime chaparral, you encounter the steep approach back to the start of the loop. I easily climbed this 320-foot section in my motorized wheelchair. Even though the trail can be done in a short amount of time, I lingered for hours watching raptors soar above me and listening to the birds.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Accessible Parking: Yes

Foot of 16th Street off Santa Ysabel Avenue. The accessible space is not striped.

Accessible Restroom:

No restrooms available
Trail through trees
Trail through trees (Jean Morrison)

Features icon key

  • hiking
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Managing Agency: San Luis Obispo County Parks
Address: Foot of 16th St., Los Osos
Nearest City: Los Osos
Phone: (805) 781-5930
Hours: Dawn to dusk
Fees: None
Dogs: On leash

Did You Know?

Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), among the fastest animals in the world, have been clocked at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour while diving for their prey.

Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, April 23, 2008
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
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