The 90-acre Elfin Forest Natural Preserve in Los Osos, also known as the El Moro Elfin Forest, is a magical place where you may or may not spot elves, gnomes, or hobbits. Watch for your dog's ears to prick up and their hackles to rise for a sign that any wee folk are near. A mile-long boardwalk trail winds throughout the reserve's diverse landscape of wind, water, and shrunken trees, and there are many spur trails you can take to further your search of the small folk.
Even if you don't spot an elf, there's so much else to see in this misty, windswept place. It's a naturalist's wonderland. The short hike through the preserve takes you through eight different ecosystems: coastal dune scrub, maritime chaparral, coastal live oak woodland, oak and manzanita forest, riparian woodland, brackish and coastal salt marshes, and tidal estuary.
Hike up to Siena's View for a breathtaking panorama of the Morro Bay State Marine Reserve, and down one of the spur trails to see the gathering of pygmy oaks for which the preserve is named. The saline environment of the surrounding sand dunes causes them to grow to only a quarter of their usual size.
Other small things that live here include several species of lizards, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits. Pocket gophers like to pop out from under bushes. Weasels, foxes, and coyotes reside here, too, as do salamanders and tree frogs. There's plenty to engage curious trackers and chasers, and a slow pace and careful attention will be rewarded.
The Elfin Forest is a particularly good place for bird watching, with over a hundred species of birds spotted here on a regular basis. Several species of herons, cormorants, hawks, doves, finches, blackbirds, woodpeckers, and warblers live here all year, while many other birds are frequent seasonal visitors. You'll see forest dwellers as well as shore and water birds. Keep your adventurous pup leashed throughout your walk to ensure everyone's safety.
The Elfin Forest Preserve is as convenient and accessible as it is special. Doggy waste bags are provided at stations around the preserve. The main boardwalk trail is wheelchair accessible and easy to navigate for families and dogs with different energy and mobility levels. This may not be the best place to come for an aerobic challenge, but it's the perfect place to commune with nature and relax, satisfying to curious noses and minds alike.