Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Bolsa Chica is the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River Estuary. Within the 1,400-acre reserve are five plant communities: salt marsh, coastal strand, coastal sage scrub, freshwater wetlands, and riparian woodland. With 300 species of birds—including endangered clapper rails, peregrine falcons, and California least terns—it's a bird watcher's paradise. The best times for viewing are morning and early evening. Five miles of hard-packed dirt trails wind through the preserve; most are rough riding for manual wheelchair riders, except for the Mesa Trail, which leaves from the visitor center, and a 400-foot boardwalk over Bolsa Chica Inner Bay at the southern entrance, where I saw a great blue heron wait patiently for a mid-morning snack, then snatch it with lightning speed.
Free public tours are offered the second Saturday of each month, 10 am-noon; meet at the reserve’s interpretive center.
Visitor center: The small but informative interpretive center, located at the north parking lot, has educational displays about the Bolsa Chica wetlands, nearby watersheds, and marine ecology. You will find several saltwater aquaria that change throughout the year, tanks with small reptiles, and many taxidermied small animals, birds, and waterfowl.
Trailhead: At the east (far) end of the interpretive center parking lot
Length: 1-2 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: LevelThe slope from the Mesa Trail to the levee trail is very steep and has a cross-slope greater than 2 percent.
It's a bumpy ride, but one of the smoothest in the reserve for wheelchair riders.
At the start of the trail is a wooden footbridge that briefly runs parallel to Warner Avenue, then turns south and follows the edge of the outer bay, which is often teeming with waterfowl. To the east is the lower mesa, a grassy field where raptors like to hover in search of their next meal. Looking around at the flat, open expanse of wetlands, the Pacific Coast Highway (traffic noise was loud), and the dried grasses, I briefly thought that this trail might not be that interesting. Then I heard a rustle, and about 10 feet from me a majestic great blue heron took flight. I continued along the trail in anticipation of my next sighting. I wasn't disappointed; soon a small bunny hopped across the trail, a lizard scampered away, and pelicans skimmed the water.
A few interpretive panels along the way tell the history of the preserve, and benches invite you to pause to observe the wildlife. In a little more than .5 miles you reach an overlook, after which the trail descends steeply to a levee trail that continues another mile to the south end of the reserve. I turned around at the overlook.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Two lots serve the reserve: 3842 Warner Ave. (north lot) and 18000 Pacific Coast Hwy. (south lot), across Pacific Coast Highway from the Bolsa Chica State Beach entrance.
Porta-potties are at both parking lots
Other Things of Interest
A great blue heron hunts for food (Bonnie Lewkowicz)
||Bolsa Chica Conservancy|
||3842 Warner Ave.|
|| 6 am-8 pm. Visitor center: 9 am-4 pm.|
Did You Know?
Bolsa Chica is a valuable archaelogical site because of the presence of “cogged stones,” round disks that have grooves or notches carved around the edges and were used by pre-Columbian Indians, presumably for ceremonies or decoration.