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Morro Bay State Park, California, United States

Black Hill Trail - Morro Bay State Park

Climb up to Black Hill with great views from the summit.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 3.0 miles / 4.8 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
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Overview: Black Hill is the second to last of nine volcanic plugs that lie between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay (the last being Morro Rock itself). The hike to the top travels through Fleming's Forest--a hillside of Monterey Pine trees that were planted by John Fleming (a former park superintendent). It is rumored that Black Hill received its name due to the tar seep on the north side of the hill. The distance from the Morro Bay State Park campground to the top and back to the campgrounds is approximately 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 600 feet. This scenic and enjoyable hike is relatively easy and can be done in just a couple of hours.

Tips: This short and scenic trek requires just the usual hiking gear: good shoes, layered clothing (these coastal areas are about 30 degrees cooler in the summer than inland areas), a water bottle, and perhaps some snacks to enjoy on the summit. If there is chance you'll be caught in the dark, be sure to bring a headlamp. In addition, if you want to enjoy the views from the top but don't have time for the full hike, Black Mountain Rd./Upper State Park Rd. will take you three fourths the way to the top and there is a small parking lot from which you can hike rest of the way. However, although the road to the parking lot is supposed to open during the day, the opening and closing times are not always reliable.

Points of Interest


Trailhead and Monterey Pine Trees

The hike starts just past the group camp restrooms. Look for a trail leading into the forest. The Monterey Pines along the trail were planted by John Fleming, a former park superintendent. He accidentally ordered too many trees for another project and used the left-over trees on Black Hill. Unfortunately, many are dying due to Pine Pitch Canker, a fungus disease which targets these trees.

View of Black Hill and Cabrillo Peak

This is a lovely spot to enjoy the view of the two closest of the Nine Sisters, the nine volcanic plugs that lie in a line between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.

Cerro Cabrillo (also known as Cabrillo Peak) is the third to last of the Nine Sisters. The area surrounding Cerro Cabrillo is popular with hikers, climbers and mountain bikers. It was named for Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo who explored the region around 1542.

Morro Bay Golf Course

When you come to the golf course, you will want turn right and walk along the edge of the course. After the course the trail heads back into the forest.

This golf course is one the loveliest golf courses on the central coast, and is a perfect place to spend an afternoon. Two of the strengths of the course are the beautiful views of the ocean and the many species of birds that inhabit the area, which earned the title of "Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary" by Audubon International.

The current fees are $42 for weekdays and $51 for weekends. For reservations, call (805) 782-8060.

Eucalyptus Trees and Monarch Butterflies

Take a deep breath and enjoy that eucalyptus fragrance! The eucalyptus tree is a member of the myrtle family, and of the 700 different species of eucalyptus, only 15 occur outside of Australia. These trees are a favorite roosting place of the migratory monarch butterflies which pass through each fall and winter.

Beginning in mid-October and lasting until late-November, monarch butterflies migrate along the California coast to escape the cold Canadian winters. They settle in the eucalyptus groves and pine tress. By February they leave the groves to search for milkweed plants to lay their eggs. One of their favorite roosting groves in right here in Morro Bay State Park outside the campgrounds. The migration is a trek of 1800 miles, and it takes four generations before the descendants return to where their ancestors started.

Steeper Section

At this point the trail becomes a tad bit steeper. Be prepared for switchbacks and perhaps some siding during the rainy (muddy) season. If you come to a junction, you should bear left to continue on the steeper grade.

Parking and Gate

This parking area is a good alternative for those not wanting to do the entire hike but who would like to enjoy the view from on top of Black Hill. Although the road to the parking area is supposed to be open during all daylight hours, some report this is not reliable.

After the parking lot, the trail passes through a gate and then continues upward. You will notice that the trail is now wider and more well-used. Continue on this wider trail to the summit.


Black Hill summit stands at 640 feet, giving one a fine view of Morro Bay Estuary, Cabrillo Peak, and Montana De Oro State Park to the south. The peak was formed over fifteen million years ago by underwater volcanoes. After the sea subsided, erosion removed the softer rock, leaving Black Hill and eight other volcanic formations (including Morro Rock, Cabrillo Peak, and Hollister Peak) standing majestically above the surrounding landscape.
Pictures in this guide taken by: rainse

Black Hill Trail - Morro Bay State Park Trail Map

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