Morro Strand State Beach

Morro Strand Trail

From The Cloisters to Morro Rock is 3.2 miles round trip


Morro Rock could have served as inspiration for that old 1960s’ Simon and Garfunkel tune with the “I am a rock, I am an island,” refrain. Indeed, Morro Rock was an island located about 1,000 feet offshore until the late 1800s when harbor-makers started expanding Morro Bay’s entrance and sand shoals began piling up between the rock and mainland.

As a result of such tidal tampering, Morro Rock became part of what geographers call a tombolo, a sand spit that connects an island to the main¬land. (Pt. Sur Light Station on the rugged Big Sur coast is perched on the Central Coast’s other famed tombolo.)

Morro is a slimmer and trimmer rock than the great rounded dome explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo named “El Moro” when he sailed by in 1542. Morro is missing a million tons or so of basaltic rock—the result of quarrying operations that took place from the 1880s until 1969 when the rock was declared a state park preserve. Most of the rock removed from Morro was used to construct breakwaters at Morro Bay and San Luis Bay.

Morro Strand offers the beach hiker an altogether different perspective on Morro Rock than the usual postcard view from Morro Bay. As viewed from the south, Morro Rock is part of busy scene that includes the harbor, a shoreline powerplant and the town of Morro Bay. From a viewpoint to the north, the “Gibraltar of the Pacific” appears much more solitary, more island-like. From this angle, it’s easy to imagine Morro’s past life as an undersea volcano.

Morro Bay attracts flocks of migratory waterfowl in the winter including ruddy ducks, widgeons, buffleheads, pintails. Scores of grebes, loons, terns and black brants (small geese that fly in from northern Canada) also winter here.
This hike begins at a particularly intriguing trailhead called The Cloisters, a combination wetland, small housing development and city park that’s sand¬wiched between Coast Highway and the low dunes back of Morro Strand State Beach. Wildlife experts, landscape architects and park officials teamed to create a pond and related “natural” habitats designed to attract a variety of birds. The developer of The Cloisters was required to make these unusual environmental efforts in order to build on adjacent property.

Learn more about The Cloisters via an asphalt trail that encircles the wetlands and some interpretive signs. Other trails link The Cloisters to the beach.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 1, about two miles north of “downtown” Morro Bay, turn west on San Jacinto Street then bear south through a small subdivision to the parking lot.

The hike: From the developed part of the park with the children’s play¬ground, walk oceanward toward the low dunes and join a boardwalk path. (Detour briefly north if you wish and learn about The Cloisters wetland from some interpretive signs.) This walk heads south alongside the dunes. The path, a boardwalk, curves through the dunes and deadends on the beach. Head south down the beach toward mighty Morro Rock.

When you’re hiking down-coast, the massive Morro Bay Power Plant is nearly as dominating a presence as Morro Rock. When in operation, the plant, located just inland from Morro Rock, generates electricity with oil-fired turbines that convert ocean water to steam.

Your trail is a broad, sandy beach formerly called Atascadero (“the mud-flats” in Spanish) State Beach. A few years back state park officials renamed it Morro Strand. The state beach is bisected into northern and southern sec¬tions by a campground located a half mile north of The Cloisters.

Some surf fishers, surfers and clammers know about this beach, but not many. You might find yourself accompanied only by your thoughts as you meander Morro Strand.

Trail’s end is the base of Morro Rock. Coleman City Park, located just inland from the rock, offers some picnic tables.

n your return, savor the views of the Santa Lucia Mountains that seem to curve with the coast toward Big Sur.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.