Treadmill Rating (out of 10): 5 out of 10
Distance: 3 mile round trip
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Max Elevation: 600 feet
Black Hill is one of nine volcanic plugs stretching from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo known as the Nine Sisters. They were formed under the ocean many eons ago under softer rock that eventually eroded away after the formations were no longer under the ocean leaving the nine hills. The most famous of the Nine Sisters is the iconic Morro Rock. Climbing Morro Rock is prohibited but Black Hill offers a wonderful view of the entire Morro Bay area and is accessible year round. Both Black Hill and another of the Nine Sisters, Cerro Cabrillo, are located in Morro Bay State Park.
It is 1.5 miles from the trail head to the top of Black Hill.
After finding the trail head in the Moro Bay Campground the trail climbs gradually upward through soft dirt and brushy chaparral as this portion of the hike follows the exercise trail. Be aware that there are several places along the trail with Poison Oak so long pants are recommended. The Poison Oak was clear of the trail so staying on the trail should keep you out of harm’s way. I like to warn my children every time I see it so they don’t pick up leaves and other items off the ground in those areas so they can avoid getting Poison Oak
Eventually the trail crosses the paved Park View Road and continues on the other side. Just prior to crossing the road there is a small marker for the trail with Black Hill and an arrow pointing the way. The trail continues to climb through Eucalyptus trees and then oak trees. Portions of other trails crisscross the main trail. Some trails are used by mountain bikers but the main trail has several wooden barriers to stop them from using it for that purpose. Because some other trails intersect the main trail having a map is helpful. Generally if you keep going uphill you will stay on the main trail.
Stopping to look down the hill periodically offers some great views of the area including the estuary. The day we went Morro Bay was foggy but during our climb much of the fog dissipated. Eventually you will see a large water tank above you on the trail. As you get closer to the tank you come to a parking area that is the beginning of the shorter hike for those who do not want to make the entire journey to the top. The hike then begins a series of switchbacks until it reaches the top.
The top of Black Hill offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the area. We ate our lunch here and took lots of photographs. We could see two of the other Nine Sisters from the peak, Morro Rock and Cerro Cabrillo. Morro Rock’s upper half was shrouded in fog and a slight sea breeze began to bring the fog back into the lower elevations. We could see the fog literally blowing back into the area below us.
On the way back down my kids decided to take one of the other trails, Grove Trail, down the mountain which goes through a large Eucalyptus grove that I read has lots of Monarch Butterflies during some portions of the year. This trail connects to the paved Park View Road we crossed on our way up the hill. We followed Park View Road back to the Black Hill/Exercise trail where it crosses over the road. We then followed the trail back to the campground and our vehicle.
WHERE IS THE HIKE LOCATED?
There are two different trail heads that hikers can take to summit Black Hill. Both are located in Morro Bay State Park. From Highway 1 in Morro Bay take the South Bay Blvd Exit. Follow South Bay Blvd to State Park Road. At the Morro Bay Campground find a parking spot on State Park Road, Park at the Museum, or you can pay for a day use picnic site and park in the campground. The longer hike begins inside the campground for a 3 mile round trip hike to the top of Black Hill.
Enter the campground and ask for a map from the Ranger at the entrance. The printed map (currently free) is much clearer than the one available online. While the trail is short there are a few different trails so having a map is recommended. Proceed from the camp ground entrance to the back where the road leads to the group camp ground area. The road goes from paved to dirt as it enters the group camp ground area. About 40 yards or so on the right a small trail goes off the dirt road. This path is marked as an exercise trail on the State Park map but as you head down this trail it eventually connects to the Black Hill Trail.
For a shorter hike (less than ¾ mile) continue on State Park Road past the camp ground until Park View Road. Take a right on Park View Road and drive just past the club house for the golf course where there is a parking area where you can pick up the trail to the top of Black Hill. There is a road sign on the State Park Road indicating where to turn on Park View Road to get to Black Hill.
How Technical: This hike is not very technical. It is a short distance and the terrain is not particularly challenging. Basic map reading skills are helpful for staying on the correct trail. There are no restrooms on the trail or at the top of Black Hill but there are some rather nice restrooms in the Camp Ground.
WHO CAN DO THIS HIKE?
This hike is an excellent starter hike for anyone wanting to get started in hiking as a hobby or who is looking to do a hike with children. Anyone with a basic fitness level can complete this hike. Families with younger children should be able to complete the hike with few breaks for water and perhaps a snack. The biggest challenge most people will see is going up the hill. The downhill portions are not very physically taxing. Those with health issues should consult a physician before engaging in any physical activity such as hiking.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
The beauty of this coastal hike is that the weather and location make it possible to do this hike nearly year round. Rainy days may be challenging due to mud. Different times of the year may provide a different experience. Summers are more likely to have the area covered in fog while winter may see more sunshine. Always check the weather before hiking and plan accordingly.
Some times of the year may experience greater foot traffic on the trail. Summers are busy times for the Morro Bay area. If you do not like lots of people on the trail when you hike you may want to choose a less popular time of the year. When we went we only saw a couple other people and all of them had chosen the shorter trail near the summit. While on the top of the hill we only saw two other people who only stopped for a couple minutes to enjoy the view.
Walking a couple miles a few days a week should be more than sufficient to complete the full version of the hike. Basic cardiovascular fitness makes any sort of physical outdoor activity more enjoyable. This hike does not require an Ironman fitness level making it accessible to nearly all hikers or those wanting just to go for a nice nature walk while visiting Morro Bay.
This hike requires very little if any gear. Most hikers we encountered had no gear other than comfortable shoes and a hat. I recommend water and since we were taking food for lunch at the summit I also took my day pack with my usual supplies of rain gear, insect repellent, and emergency supplies. I always carry a few extra items in case of emergency. Water and snacks are always good to take if you have younger hikers. These two items along with frequent breaks can keep children moving along the trail and alleviate complaining. I also enjoy frequently hydrating when I hike and took water in a Camelbak.