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Hiking the Sand Spit, March-Sept (snowy plover protection period)
*This is the North end of the Morro Bay sand spit and not part of the State Park. Access by water.*
I’ve got itchy feet. I’ve always been short on patience, but we are “stuck” here in “Beautiful Morro Bay” until the boat and we are cruise ready. That’s what the locals call it , “Beautiful Morro Bay.” It’s a tiny hamlet on the central coast of California with a small fishing fleet, a narrow channel of moored boats, some in better shape than others. Don’t get me wrong, I like Morro Bay, I’m just not in love with it. I long for aqua clear waters and white sand beaches and warmth. (Ask me again when we’re sweltering in the Sea of Cortez about the warmth thing, I’m sure I’ll have a different perspective). It’s our first summer on the boat here and it has been cold and foggy. The water is too cold to swim in. We light the diesel heater every night. In. July. Granted, I could drive for 45 minutes to Paso Robles where it’s 104, but there is no water there, so I regularly take this hike with the dogs and thought I would share it with you so that if you find yourself here waiting for weather, or just enjoying the surroundings you can get away from the crowds on the Embarcadero.
On non boat-project days, Brian takes the rowing dinghy to land and attends to job projects, remodeling houses and contributing to the cruising kitty. I stay here on the boat with the three dogs, teaching myself to blog and edit videos, doing small boat projects and taking care of domestic work. When it’s time for a break, I round up the dogs and take them to land to romp. We have two choices in the time frame that I usually allow myself. One is the shore where all the people/tourists are that has a nice park where I can throw the ball for them or the other shore where there is an empty “sand spit”. The dogs and I prefer the empty sand spit. (No people (or very few) no leashes (seasonal) and plenty of empty beach to play on.
During the months of March through September there is a symbolic fence around the endangered Snowy Plover nesting grounds. For this reason dogs should be leashed when walking along the narrow trails where they can encroach upon the nesting birds. Once on the shoreline I let them run free. Also during the summer months there are ticks so make sure your dog has had his tick/flea protection.
The hike/loop takes about and hour to an hour and a half depending on how fast you want to walk. It is a bit strenuous at times since you are walking in either soft sand or sinking mud. On sunny days it is recommended to wear some kind of sandals because the sand does get hot, and of course, bring some water.
The entrance of the trail is just across the narrow bay from the large quonset hut building on the embarcadero across the street from the gray yacht club building. If you’re kayaking or moored in the north end of the harbor, it’s an easy landmark to see. Once you arrive at the Sand Spit, make sure you monitor the tides (I use the app “tides near me”) so that your vessel doesn’t float away or becomes high and dry while you’re on your hike. We have a RIB with a nice outboard on it and I use a little danforth anchor to secure it. It’s always a good idea to enter the Harbor Patrol’s number in your phone when going out on the bay, just in case your dinghy or kayak floats away. They’re more than happy to help.
Follow the rope fence towards Morro Rock and you’ll easily see the entrance to the trail that cuts through the dunes to the beach side of the sand spit. This is where it narrows and you will have to keep a leash on your dog so as not to disturb the snowy plovers, March-September. I have not seen any officials monitoring the area but it’s best to be safe rather than sorry. It takes about 20 minutes on this trail before you hit the beach. You’ll emerge just north of a breakwater to find a most-of-the-time abandoned stretch of shoreline. Here, you can walk as far as you’d like or continue to the other entrance to complete the loop. In the winter and spring you can sometimes find sea glass and always lots of sand dollars. Sometimes you’ll see a surfer or two, who have paddled across for the good surf and empty waves.
Once you’re ready to go back to the harbor side of the sand spit you will be able to recognize the opening through the fence by the yellow signs hanging on the rope of the fence. This, too, will take about 20 minutes, and has gently rolling terrain. When you come out you will see a yellow flag on top of the dune and the harbor stretching out below you. The walk back takes you over the mud flats and back to your starting point along the shoreline.
I should also mention that if you’d like a longer, more scenic walk you can walk along the shore line north toward the rock and around the point and over the breakwater rocks. There is an easy path over the rocks with minimal boulder hopping to get to the beach side. If you decide to go this way plan on tacking on another 35-40 minutes to your hike. It does offer spectacular views of the harbor entrance and Morro Rock, if it’s not too foggy.
Morro Bay has lots of sea and bird life to observe. Sea lions and sea otters abound and there are so many species of birds that is hard to count. Keep an eye out for the Osprey’s that like to land on the masts of sailboats in the harbor and the Peregrine Falcons that hang out by Morro Rock.