Elfin Forest Natural Area

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Elfin Forest, pygmy Coast live oaks
Fuchsia flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), in the El Moro Elfin Forest.
Elfin Forest view to NE, across the salt marsh
Sunset from the Elfin Forest

The Elfin Forest Natural Area is a nature preserve protecting a unique plant community in Los Osos-Baywood Park, San Luis Obispo County, central California.[1] It consists of prehistoric sand dunes, rising 150 feet (46 m) above southern Morro Bay, on the north of Los Osos-Baywood Park.[2]


The Elfin Forest Natural Area covers 90 acres, that have been acquired by The Los Osos / Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP) since 1988.[3] The land was accepted by and now belongs to San Luis Obispo County Parks and California State Parks.[1][3] The transfer's acceptance by the agencies was based on ongoing active stewardship by SWAP, which continues to the present day.[3] The nature preserve opened to the public in 1994.

Natural history[edit]

The native Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) trees compose an elfin forest, in a naturally harsh location with poor soil conditions, salt spray, and constant winds, that have stunted and directed their growth. They now compose a woodland of trees, with the largest between 200 and 400 years old, and range from a height of 20 feet (6.1 m) in sheltered areas to a low of 4 feet (1.2 m) near the tallest ridge line.[4]

There are several other native plants of pygmy forest scale in the nature preserve, also adapted to the harsh habitat, including the locally endemic Morro manzanita (Arctostaphylos morroensis).

Habitats in the nature reserve, within the California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregion, include:[4]

The Elfin Forest supports more than 200 species of plants, 51 species of lichens, as well as 110 kinds of birds, 22 species of mammals, and 13 species of reptiles and amphibians.[1][5]


A nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) boardwalk loop, constructed in 1999 to protect the Elfin Forest's sensitive habitats, provides access for young and old, walkers and wheelchair users.[1] Viewpoint sections along it have expansive overlooks over Morro Bay and the sand dunes spit, and the diverse bird species in the estuary.[6]

Chumash people[edit]

In pre-Columbian times Chumash Native Americans had a significant settlement named Los Osos Back Bay on a stabilized sand dune to the east of the Elfin Forest.[7] There is a long Chumash midden within the dwarf forest.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Elfin-forest.org: Elfin Forest Natural Area
  2. ^ Satellite closeup of the Elfin Forest Natural Areawith access points and trails.
  3. ^ a b c Elfin-forest.org: Conservation management
  4. ^ a b Elfin-forest.org: About the Elfin Forest
  5. ^ Elfin-forest.org: Flora and Faunawith links to 9 lists of the plants and animals of the Elfin Forest.
  6. ^ Brian Milne. 2008. Top Trails California Central Coast: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, Published by Wilderness Press, ISBN 978-0-89997-437-8, 313 pages
  7. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2008. Los Osos Back Bay, Megalithic Portal, editor A. Burnham

External links[edit]