The 1,051-acre Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, in Imperial Beach, is southern California’s only coastal estuary that is not interrupted by roads and rail lines. The slough is an essential breeding, feeding, and nesting ground, and a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway for over 370 species of migratory and native birds, including the endangered California least tern, least Bell's vireo, California brown pelican, and light-footed clapper rail. Changes in water flow through the slough can be extreme, from a mere trickle during periods of drought to flooding during storms and high tides. The visitor center and a few miles of trail leading from it are accessible. This wildlife refuge is part of the 2,500-acre Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Visitor center: Surrounded by a native plant garden, the visitor center has permanent exhibits that highlight estuary flora and fauna, estuarine ecology, and natural processes. Free interpretive programs and guided hikes for children and adults are offered. Call for schedules.
State Parks Advisory: Many of California's state parks are reducing hours of operation and limiting access to facilities because of budget cuts. We recommend that you consult State Parks' website and contact the park directly before planning a visit.
Obstacles: Transitions at all wooden bridges may be affected by erosion. The bridge behind the visitor center on the way out to Caspian Street has a large step.
Traveling behind a housing tract for a short distance, the trail leads mostly south for approximately a half-mile through a marsh setting. Several accessible wood bridges provide opportunities to glimpse tiny crabs scrambling about in the water below. From a bench at the end of the trail you can see the South McCoy Trail across the marsh, and in the distance, Tijuana’s seaside bullring. During my visit in early August, I was delighted to learn that the tiny flicker of movement I kept seeing was that of the western pygmy blue butterfly (Brephidium exilis), thought to be the smallest butterfly in North America.
Much of this trail skirts the western edge of the U.S. Navy Landing Field, where helicopters hovering overhead intrude into this otherwise prime bird-watching area. At a fork in the trail you can go north toward the North McCoy trail or south to the end of the trail, where the Tijuana River empties into the ocean. You can see the ocean in the distance and hear the surf.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.