Our first trip to Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach turned out to be quite the summer adventure.
The first day we went, there was a press conference in the interpretive center. There was no staff available to give us any direction on where to hike with kids.
So I returned the next day with husband in tow. The interpretive center was closed when we arrived, but opened soon after.
Again, it was staffed by one volunteer and she was busy with other guests. We waited a while and ended up heading out on our own.
Start your hike at the interpretive signs off the parking lot and then make your way over the bridge.
In the past, you’d have to hike along the road until the awesome footbridge was added and now it’s much safer.
See anything in the water?
My son’s comment on our 2 mile hike (roundtrip): “They should call it hotland not wetland.” Completely our mistake for going in the middle of the day!
We’ve since been back many times and it’s much more enjoyable in the early morning and late afternoon hours – or in the winter or spring. Here’s what the trail looks like in summer.
And here’s another view in spring – looks pretty different depending on the season!
How to Get to Bolsa Chica Wetlands Interpretive Center: The interpretive center is a small grey building at the southeast corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Warner. MAP to Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach
The Interpretive Center just underwent a major renovation and opens in April 2022.
The sunrise and sunset is a beautiful time of day to visit with lots of waterfowl and beach views. We could see as far as Long Beach and Palos Verdes from the trail.
Easy flat hike with continuous ocean and wetlands views — interesting historical armaments and interpretive signs about the wetlands.
Pick up a maps, bird lists, and information from volunteers at the center.
I’ve spotted an incredible variety of birds here: Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Ridgeway Rails, Red Heron, Willets, Black Skimmer, Pintails, Buffleheads, Sandpipers, Avocets, Curlews, Dowitchers, and many more!
Can you spot the Great Blue Heron in this photo?
I wouldn’t recommend going in the middle of the day because of the heat and bird-spotting isn’t as good in the middle of the day.
The interpretive center is still small, so don’t expect it to take up much time.
It was a dusty hike when we went. I imagine it could be muddy in the winter. So wear appropriate shoes and bring LOTS of water and snacks for the kids. Even though it’s an easy hike, the interpretive center can seem far away if you need to use the restroom.
There are rattlesnakes here, so stay on the trail and make sure your little ones don’t run ahead of you. In March 2017, the OC Register ran a story about battling rattlesnakes at Bolsa Chica (but keep in mind the photographer was 40 feet away from the snakes). So if you stay aware, you should have plenty of warning.
Huge controversy surrounding nearby development of the land near the wetlands preserve. Do a search and you’ll come up with a long and interesting history of the battle.
Use caution and try not to leave any items in your car at Bolsa Chica Wetlands (or at any trailhead for that matter). Thieves know you might be leaving valuables in the car because you don’t want to carry anything on your walk. They also know you’ll be gone a while so the opportunity is there.
Again, here’s a view of the trail in summer:
And here’s what it looks like in spring:
- Parking in a very small lot near the interpretive center off Warner.
- Another lot further down PCH in the south parking lot. I wrote a separate post about exploring the wetlands from the south parking lot or what I call the “PCH Entrance.”
- Dirt trails — get map from center
- Only portable toilets in the parking lot. No real restrooms. As an alternative, there’s a Jack-in-the-Box nearby and a nice Trader Joe’s off Algonquin about a block away.
- No shade
- Bring water and wear appropriate shoes
- We brought binoculars for the kids and even little nature sketchbooks
- Bolsa Chica Conservancy website
- Bolsa Chica Land Trust website
- Amigos de Bolsa Chica tours
Originally published in September 2009.