Elfin Forest is a stunning nature preserve in Los Osos, California that offers incredible opportunities for walking, hiking, and wildlife watching. Located next to the Morro Bay Estuary, Elfin Forest Natural Area consists of 90 acres of wilderness and hiking trails.
Los Osos Elfin Forest is a wonderful place to enjoy a leisurely afternoon walk, breathe in the fresh ocean air, and take in panoramic views of the bay. It offers plenty of nature to explore including hundreds of different plant species and various animals.
A designated 1-mile-long trail loops through the Elfin Forest and stops at two scenic viewpoints along the way.
In this post, we’ll cover details on where the Elfin Forest Trail is located, what to expect if you plan to hike it, and other tips to make the best of your time there!
Location & Parking
Elfin Forest Natural Area is located directly south of the Morro Bay Estuary in the central California Coast. It also borders the Los Osos neighborhood which is the entry point for visitors.
Driving Directions: To get there take Cabrillo Highway 1 and turn onto South Bay Blvd. Drive on South Bay Blvd for about 5 minutes and turn right onto Santa Ysabel Avenue. Then turn right into any of the smaller side streets where you will find several designated visitor parking spots.
The parking spaces here are limited and can fill up quickly. This is a small residential neighborhood so please keep that in mind when parking and don’t block any private houses, driveways, or mailboxes.
Multiple access points lead into the Elfin Trail Loop from each of these side streets. If you want to start at the “official trailhead”, park at the 16th street entrance. This entrance is also handicapped accessible.
About Elfin Forest Natural Area
Elfin Forest Trail is a wonderful hike for those seeking a short and easily accessible trail along the Central Coast. There are also plenty of benches throughout the trail for resting and enjoying nature.
Elfin Forest Trail is only 1 mile long and is flat making it a great trail for families with younger kids. This hike is also dog friendly so many locals come here to take their furry friends on walks.
The 90 acres of the Elfin Forest Natural Area are home to many different plants, animals, and ecosystems from marshlands and woodlands to prehistoric sand dunes. There are over 150 different plant species that reside at Elfin Forest, many of which are endangered.
To protect this natural area, a boardwalk was built in 1999 to help keep people off sensitive habitats. This area is now overseen by the Friends of El Moro Elfin Forest group that also organizes docent-led walks with a focus on bird watching and preservation efforts. You can read more about it on the Elfin Forest website here.
The Elfin Forest boardwalk is well maintained and also provides wheelchair access.
The entire loop can be walked in about an hour but believe me – you’ll be so enchanted by the beautiful nature here that you won’t want to leave!
The trail earns its name after the mysterious looking Pygmy Oak trees that grow in this area and can be recognized for their low, curved branches and dark green leaves. Walking through this nature preserve really feels like something out of a fairytale!
Throughout the Elfin Forest, you will come across multiple information signs about this area’s history and local flora & fauna.
Tip: If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, we recommend checking out the Black Hill Trail in Morro Bay that’s just up the street. At 3 miles in length, the Black Hill Trail is slightly longer and gains around 600 feet in elevation, but the views of Morro Rock from the top are phenomenal!
Hiking Elfin Forest Trail
During my visit, I parked at the 16-street trailhead where you will find a wide entrance and information about the trail as you head into it.
The Elfin Forest Trail goes in a loop and is pretty straightforward so you don’t need any special hiking maps although I usually keep AllTrails and Maps.Me apps handy every time I head out on a trail.
During my visit the trail was running in one direction – clockwise, so when I entered the trail, I turned left.
I started the hike before noon and the morning fog had not yet burned off creating a muted, moody setting. Mornings are usually the least crowded times but much of the view during my hike was obstructed by a dense fog.
As you walk around the trail, you will come across two ocean viewpoints. The first viewpoint is located directly to the west and is called the Lupine Point. This viewpoint overlooks the Morro Bay State Marine Reserve and the surrounding nature that is home to 110 different bird species like California Thrasher, California Quail, Scrub-Jay, and Snowy Egret.
In late summer Lupine Point is a great spot for birdwatching as the birds prepare for a migratory journey south. Unfortunately, during my visit, heavy haze covered the entire reserve preventing me from seeing much of the view.
If you plan to hike Elfin Forest Trail, I recommend waiting until the afternoon when the fog burns off and you’ll have a better chance to see views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains. By the time noon came around, the sun was shining bright bringing out vibrant colors in the scenery.
If you have the time, stop by the interpretive signs to learn more about the local ecosystems that co-exist here. You’ll also find interesting stories from the perspective of a young Chumash girl. Archeological records show that Native Americans have established shelter and campsites around Morro Bay and Elfin Forest for over 9000 years.
The second viewpoint, called Siena’s View is located just slightly north of Lupine Point. Here you can also learn about the geological history of the Morro Bay Estuary and that it didn’t even exist until 12,000 years ago when ice melting caused the flooding of the bay.
Keep going along the Elfin Forest boardwalk loop and in the northern part, you will come across a short side trail that leads into a beautiful grove of 100-year-old Pygmy Oak trees that are a smaller version of the Coast Live Oak. This was my favorite part of the trail because it felt so secluded and enchanting.
Further along the Elfin Forest Loop, you have an option to detour into a small dirt trail that leads towards the Morro Bay Estuary. But this trail is not as well maintained and it was completely overgrown.
Soon after the main Elfin Forest Trail will loop back around and connect with the beginning part where you can exit the loop and head back to your car.
- Elfin Forest Trail is open from sunrise to sunset for visitors
- Elfin Forest is a sensitive natural habitat with many rare and endangered species so please stay on designated trails
- Bikes, scooters, and skateboards are not allowed on the boardwalk
- There are no bathrooms anywhere along the trail
- There are no water sources on the trail so bring 1-2 bottles of water for your walk
- If you have a pet with you, please keep them on a leash so as not to disturb the wildlife
- There are doggie bags at the main entrance on 16th street. It’s up to the visitors to keep this area clean
Other wonderful hikes to explore nearby: