Morro Bay is a small coastal town in Central California. The main attraction of Morro Bay is Morro Rock, a large volcanic plug that stands tall in the midst of the shoreline.
Most people that visit Morro Bay hang out in the town or by the beach, but if you have the time, we recommend checking out Black Hill Trail that leads to an incredible viewpoint of Morro Rock, the coast, and the surrounding landscape.
In this blog post, we cover details on where the Black Hill Trailhead is located, where to park, difficulty, and what to expect.
Black Hill Trail Location & Parking
Black Hill Trail is located within Morro Bay State Park, next to the Morro Bay Golf Course.
One of the best things about visiting Black Hill is that you can drive up to the top of the hill and park at a designated parking lot just 0.3 miles from the Black Hill viewpoint.
Or, if you’re looking for a longer hike and some exercise, you can park at the bottom of the hill and turn it into a 3-mile hike. This is what we did because this area is just gorgeous and the hike goes by quickly.
For those who are short on time and just want to drive up to the viewpoint, here is the location for the drive-up parking lot:
Black Hill Parking: Upper State Park Rd, Morro Bay, CA 93442
For those who choose to take the longer route, you have a couple of parking options. There is a small dirt lot next to the Exercise Trailhead that can fit a few cars.
Exercise Trailhead: Main Street, Morro Bay State Park, CA
During our visit, the main road leading to the Exercise Trailhead was closed so we parked in the marina parking lot by Bayside Cafe. It added a little bit of a walk to our hiking route, but this was the closest parking option.
Marina Parking Lot: 10 State Park Rd, Morro Bay, CA 93442
About Black Hill Trail
Black Hill Trail is one of the easiest Central California beach hikes. This trail is best done on a sunny afternoon when the morning haze has burned off offering miles and miles of stunning coastal views.
If you go on a foggy day, you might not be able to spot the Morro Rock from the Black Hill viewpoint which is the main attraction of this trail.
We chose to do the 3-miles long out-and-back Black Hill Trail that takes a couple of hours to complete and gains around 600 feet in elevation. Overall, this hike is very easy but it does climb steadily up for the entire time until you reach the Black Hill lookout point.
After taking in the views you can head back the same way or venture into one of the other side trails for different scenery.
Black Hill is a small volcanic hill made of solidified magma, also referred to as a volcanic plug. There are 9 volcanic plugs in San Luis Obispo County from which 3 are located in the Morro Bay area – Black Hill, Morro Rock, and the nearby Cerro Cabrillo.
The trails surrounding Black Hill are part of the Morro Bay State Park. There is a large campground at the bottom where the hiking trails start although it was closed during our visit.
Morro Bay State Park and the adjacent Morro Bay Estuary were created to protect and restore the ecosystems and marine wildlife that live in this area. During your hike, you can expect to see a variety of interesting trees and birds, although the majority of the wildlife lives underwater in the marshlands and the ocean.
Dogs are allowed on the Black Hill Trail but due to Morro Bay’s conservation efforts dogs are required to be on a leash.
Hiking Black Hill Trail
When we arrived in Morro Bay, we realized that the main road leading to the trailhead was closed. Thankfully we found a free nearby parking lot in the marina next to the Bayside Café. It seemed that everyone was parking at the marina and walking to the trailhead from there.
After parking, we walked along the main road to where the Exercise Trail starts. There are several routes that you can take and we followed the suggested route from AllTrails that came out to be around 3 miles long. The Black Hill Trail wasn’t well marked but we had enough reception to reference maps on our phone.
At the Exercise Trailhead, we turned away from the main road into the narrow trail. The trail starts on loose orange sand with lots of Coastal sage scrubs.
This section was not very steep but the sand and overgrown shrubs made it a slow walk. Many people also report finding ticks in this area, although we personally didn’t find any on us at the end of the hike.
Along this section, we could see the Cerro Cabrillo volcanic hill in the background. Cerro Cabrillo is another volcanic plug, similar to Black Hill and Morro Rock, just much taller.
A couple of minutes into the trail we reached a junction. We checked the map and made a left. Then we came across another junction and made a right to continue along the Exercise Trail.
From there the Black Hill Trail goes through beautiful California oak woodlands that looked very mystical.
Another great coastal hike with lots of unique trees is the San Simeon Bay Trail, just 40 minutes north of here.
As we got closer to the lookout point, the trail started to get steeper and continued along switchbacks but it wasn’t very difficult.
Near the top, we passed a large round structure that looked like a water fountain. After the structure, we followed a sign pointing to the left.
There is a small parking lot about 0.3 miles from the top. If you’re short on time and don’t want to do the entire 3-mile hike, you can also park here and walk the last 0.3 miles in.
The last section of the hike is the prettiest with beautiful views of the ocean, Morro Bay Rock, the town and surrounding landscape.
It was a clear day so we could see views of the Morro Bay Estuary and Los Osos town to the south. Morro Bay Estuary is an expansive marshland that runs into the ocean and can only be accessed by kayak.
From the top, we could see the delicate river patterns weave through the land.
The Black Hill Trail ends at an overlook at the top of the hill. This is the highest point of the peak and from here you can see 360 views all around you.
Although there were lots of people at the top, there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out and enjoy the views. After a little break, we started heading back down.
On the way down instead of taking the Exercise Trail we turned into the Grove Trail. It was very similar but we did pass a fun swing along the trail.
Eventually, the path ended at the main road which we followed back to our car. It was late afternoon by now and the mosquitoes were very active.
They swarmed us on the way back and we practically ended up running to our car.
If you come here in the summer, especially July or August, come prepared and bring a mosquito repellent.