Elfin Forest, Los Osos: Walk the Beautiful Boardwalk Trail!

Elfin Forest Los Osos, also called Elfin Forest Natural Area, or El Moro Elfin Forest, is a nature preserve in Los Osos, a few miles south of Morro Bay on the Central California Coast. It protects pygmy coastal live oaks.

Walking the boardwalk trail through the Elfin Forest should be at the top of your list of things to do in Los Osos. The walk is both scenic and relaxing.

Walking the boardwalk trail through the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, CA

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Covering about 90 acres, the Los Osos Elfin Forest is home not only to the unique pygmy oaks, but a variety of pygmy native plants that have adapted to the locale.

If you are considering walking the Los Osos Elfin Forest Boardwalk Trail, read on to learn what to expect, plus things to know before you go.

What Can You Expect on the Elfin Forest Hike in Los Osos, CA?
Essential Facts About the Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail
How to Get to the Trailhead for Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail
How long does it take to hike the Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail?
What to bring on the Los Osos Elfin Forest Loop hike
Tips for hiking the Loop Trail at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, CA

What Can You Expect on the Elfin Forest Hike in Los Osos, CA?

Walking the boardwalk trail through the El Moro Elfin Forest brings you up close to the stunted live oaks and other flora in the preserve.

The Elfin Forest sits on coastal sand dunes, and is home to several hundred plant species (some of them rare) and a variety of birds and wildlife, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers, birding enthusiasts, and landscape photographers. You’ll also get views of Morro Rock in the distance!

Sculptural trunks of a pygmy live oak in the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California

The forest was used seasonally for hunting by the Chumash for centuries, and you can still see Chumash middens scattered about the preserve.

The park is home to several different environments, from coastal dunes clothed in scrub and salt marshes to areas covered with chaparral or manzanita.

We walked the trail clockwise, and that’s how we’ve described it here.

Admire the Pygmy Live Oaks

California coastal live oaks normally grow 50 feet or more, but here at the Elfin Forest, you will see oaks as short as 4 or 5 feet, up to about 20 feet. The trees are old, many of them several hundred years old.

You will see pygmy live oaks on both sides of the boardwalk trail as you walk through the preserve. Many of them have sculptural bark and make for great photos.

A pygmy live oak in the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California

Observe the Many Other Types of Flora

If you enjoy plants, you will find much to admire along the Elfin Forest boardwalk trail, because the preserve is home to more than 200 types of plants and lichens.

From California poppies to golden yarrow and tidy tips, many of the plants in the preserve bear flowers, and we saw several pops of color as we walked the trail in late spring.

A fern at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California

Some specimens of interest along the trail have been labeled, so if you look down at the edge of the boardwalk, you will see plant names.

Enjoy the Scenic Overlooks

Offshoots from the main trail through the El Moro Elfin Forest take you to two scenic overlooks, and they are worth doing if you have the time.

The Bush Lupine Viewpoint is so called because of the lovely purple lupine that grows at the edge of the viewing area. The viewpoint also offers expansive views over Morro Bay.

The Lupine Viewpoint at the Los Osos Elfin Forest offers views of Morro Rock and Morro Bay

Siena’s View offers views of the surrounding hills as well as the bay. Named after a young Los Osos resident, the viewing area offers visitors the opportunity to quietly savor the beautiful surroundings.

Look for birds, wildlife, butterflies, and more!

As a superb nature trail, the Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail is a great place from which to look for wildlife and birds.

Several dozen species of birds can be seen in the preserve as well as from the viewpoints along the trail, so be sure to bring your binoculars. We saw California quail, a hummingbird, and some finches on our walk.

Male California quail sitting on a branch

There are many mammals that call the park home, from bobcats and black-tailed deer to mice and rabbits. You will almost certainly see lizards along the way, as well as lovely butterflies.

Sit for A Bit in the Live Oak Grove

Somewhere around the half-way mark, start to keep your eyes open for a short spur that leads into a serene grove of live oaks.

A bench is strategically placed in the grove, to allow you to sit and silently enjoy the tranquil setting. If you have a little breeze, you will definitely want to linger. The sculptural shapes of the oak trunks look gorgeous.

Looking at the live oaks in the oak grove at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, CA

We may have missed the grove had it not been that we heard voices as we drew near: a couple of park docents were having a work meeting in the grove, and we wandered in to take in the beautiful trees.

Look for the Amazing Photo Ops in a Second Oak Grove!

If you are walking the loop clockwise, a little bit farther along the trail, a step-down from the boardwalk onto a short sandy spur trail leads to yet another beautiful oak grove.

You may have to crouch to get into the grove, but the trunks of the oaks here, with the filtered light, offer stunning photo ops.

Pygmy oaks at Los Osos Elfin Forest in California

Keep your eyes open for the side trail, because the grove is not visible from the boardwalk. One of the docents pointed out the little spur to us.

Essential Facts About the Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail

The El Moro Elfin Forest Loop Trail in Los Osos is about one mile in length, with an elevation change of about 60 feet. The well-maintained boardwalk trail is accessible to wheelchairs, strollers, and walkers.

There are additional sandy spurs that you can do off the boardwalk. Some of these spur trails were a bit overgrown when we visited.

You will find plaques along the trail with interesting information on the history of the forest, its various environments, its flora and fauna, and the Chumash people that hunted and gathered food here.

Information plaque along the Boardwalk Trail at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, CA

Benches are scattered about the boardwalk, allowing for relaxed appreciation of views and your surroundings.

You can hike the Los Osos Elfin Forest Loop Trail year round. Enjoy wildflowers in the spring. In the summer, the marine layer can obstruct views, especially in the morning, so if possible, wait for it to burn off before walking the trail. We walked it both in the fog and at a clear bright time, and enjoyed both experiences.

Dogs on leashes are permitted on the trail. Leashes should be no longer than 6 feet. Mutt Mitt dispensers (and trash containers) are provided at the entrances to allow you to clean up after your pet.

Docent-led walks are offered at the El Moro Elfin Forest, so check the schedule before your visit! We met two docents on our walk and they were incredibly helpful. If you prefer to wander on your own, trail guides are available at a couple of entrances.

The Elfin Forest Trail in Los Osos is free to walk, and is open to visitors from sunrise to sunset everyday. There are no restrooms.

View from the Elfin Forest hike in Los Osos CA

How to Get to the Trailhead for Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail

The Los Osos Elfin Forest is located just a couple of miles south of Morro Bay, in the northeastern part of Los Osos.

Coming from the north, get onto California Highway 1, and take the off-ramp to Los Osos. Make a right on South Bay Boulevard and then a right onto Santa Ysabel, along which you will find multiple entrances into the Elfin Forest: look for the brown signs that say “Elfin Forest.”

Coming from the south on US 101, take the Los Osos Valley Road exit near San Luis Obispo. Drive west for about 9 miles, and make a right onto South Bay Boulevard and then a left onto Santa Ysabel, where you can enter the forest via one of multiple entrances.

View from Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California

Elfin Forest Entrances and Parking

You can enter the Los Osos Elfin Forest from multiple streets off Santa Ysabel in Los Osos: 17th Street through 11th Street. At each of the entrances, there are a small number of parking spots, but you can also park along the residential streets.

The 16th Street entrance is accessible. At other entrances, sandy trails meet up with the boardwalk loop.

The 11th Street exit has the greatest parking capacity, if you can’t find a spot at another entrance. If you park here, you will walk to the boardwalk through a lovely wooded area.

A view of the salt marsh and Morro Bay from Los Osos CA

How long does it take to hike the Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail?

You can walk the boardwalk trail at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos in about 20-30 minutes. But the scenery along the trail is beautiful, and with the flora and fauna to appreciate and the serene ambience, you will want to take your time, so we suggest allowing at least one hour.

If you have the time and are able, you may want to explore the sand trails that run through parts of the forest as well as the main boardwalk.

Elfin Forest Flora in Los Osos, California

What to bring on the Los Osos Elfin Forest Loop hike


Drinking water is not available at the preserve. The loop trail is short, but you’ll want to stay hydrated, so carry an adequate supply of drinking water. This is true especially if you plan to linger in the park for some time.


The Los Osos Elfin Forest Trail is short, so you do not really need to bring food. But if you visit with young children or you enjoy munching as you walk, bring snacks.

But please, pack out everything you bring into the preserve! The forest is beautiful, and you want to leave no trace of your visit. There are trash containers at the entrances.

Walking the boardwalk trail at the Elfin Forest near Morro Bay, California

Bug Spray

Bring bug spray. We use a natural insect repellent for most hiking trails, and it’s what we used on this trail.


You’ll want to protect your skin when you explore the Los Osos Elfin Forest. The trails are exposed for the most part. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sun hat, and do not forget SPF lip balm.

Camera and Binoculars

If you enjoy birding, remember to bring your binoculars on the Elfin Forest hike. We bring our Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars if we expect to see birds or wildlife. They are waterproof, and perform well in low light.

The views along the Elfin Forest Boardwalk Trail are gorgeous. We took photos both with our smartphones and with our cameras! We bring our little Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 to photograph birds and animals. It fits in a jacket pocket but has a fabulous zoom lens.

A butterfly at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos CA

Tips for hiking the Loop Trail at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, CA

Here are some tips that will hopefully make your visit to the Elfin Forest in Los Osos an enjoyable one!

Find Out and Follow safety guidelines issued by the park

The trail guide may have safety tips, or visit the preserve website for safety guidelines. Elfin Forest is home to myriad wildlife, as well as plants such as stinging nettle and poison oak.

Wear Closed-Toed Shoes

The boardwalk trail is flat and easy, but we always suggest sturdy closed-toed shoes for trails. This is an especially good idea if you want to be able to explore the sand trails off the boardwalk.

Hiking in the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, CA

Bring Layers

A light but warm jacket is a good idea, especially if you plan to hike early or late in the day. It can be cool and breezy by the water even in the summer!

Long-sleeved tops and long pants will help protect your skin from poison oak and the like.

Visit early or late in the day for more solitude

The Elfin Forest Loop Trail is popular with locals because it is so scenic. While it was not super crowded when we visited, we did share the trail with a number of other visitors.

A view of Morro Rock and Morro B ay from the Elfin Forest Trail in Los Osos California

If you visit early or late, you will likely enjoy a quieter walk, and the opportunity to enjoy the area without lots of other visitors. Also, you will have a better chance of seeing birds and wildlife at these times.

Visit in Spring or Fall for Clear Bright Days

Although the preserve is open all year, you may want to visit in the spring or the fall for clear days. Winter is rainy season in California, so expect some days with rain. Summer brings the marine layer phenomenon, but the fog typically disperses by noon.

In the winter and spring, you will see lots more birds, and spring also brings wildflowers.

Poppies in bloom along the Elfin Forest Boardwalk Trail in Los Osos C alifornia

Allow more time than you think you’ll need

The Elfin Forest is a beautiful place to relax and take your time, if you are visiting for recreation rather than exercise. You will want to read the informational signs, too, to learn more about the forest and its inhabitants, past and present.

Allow for extra time so that you can enjoy the views at leisure, look for birds and wildlife, and take lots of photos, and to sit for a while in the peaceful oak grove.

If you enjoy plein air painting, the overlooks are great spots for capturing the scenery on canvas or paper.


Enjoy hiking scenic trails? Check out these other articles on California hiking trails to walk:

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Discover what to expect on ther beautiful boardwalk trail at the Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California, just south of Morro Bay. Plus our tips for hiking the trail!


Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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