Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

Enjoy nature at Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve with acres of trails, wildlife and wonderful views.
Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
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Discover the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve protects and preserves the nature around the Tijuana River Estuary. The reserve deals with serious issues of habitat conservation and restoration and endangered species management. It also manages the wastewater and sediment from Mexico.

The Research Reserve is a partnership between California and the United States. Together, they make sure the park is managed seamlessly. They want to ensure that the Reserve’s natural resources are continued to be managed as well as continuing the Reserve’s educational programs.

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History

In 1964, California voters approved that Border Field, a decommissioned Navy base, be acquired and created into a state park. While local landowners wanted to create an upscale marina, President Nixon announced that the park would be part of the “Legacy of Parks” program and be used for recreational use. Learn more about Military History in San Diego.

In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased 500 acres of the estuary and created Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Two years later, despite heavy opposition, the State Park and the Refuge combined and was designated a National Estuarine Research Reserve.

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Nature Abounds at Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

The Tijuana Estuary is one of the few remaining saltwater marshes in Southern California. It is an essential area for nesting, breeding and feeding. The area is known for being a stopover for over 370 species of birds (both native and migratory), including 6 that are endangered.

The park is also home to many unique plants that are broken up into habitats such as salt marsh, mudflat, riparian and coastal sage scrub to name a few.

There is also an endangered plant in the park called Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak. It is an annual that grows in the upper marsh of the Tijuana Estuary. Make sure to keep an eye out for it!

Activities and More

Stop by the Visitor’s Center for a guided tour

Tijuana Reserve offers a variety of guided tours throughout the Estuary. Docents provide educational tours to discover the native plants of the reserve. These tours are free and meet on the second and fourth Saturday of every month.

Guided bird tours are also available at the estuary along the North McCoy Trail. This trail is 1/3 of a mile and the perfect place to spot the endangered Light-Footed Clapper Rail.

Informed docents lead the free tour and binoculars are provided. This tour is great for all ages.

Local Tips
What is an Estuary?
An estuary is a coastal wetland where freshwater that flows from rivers and streams mixes with the saltwater from the ocean. Or more simply put, an estuary is where the river meets the sea.

Kids fun!

The Junior Rangers program at the reserves offers kids ages 7-12 a chance to learn about the cultural heritage of the park. This free program offers hands-on classes taught by the park’s experts. Topics change weekly to give kids a chance to learn something new each visit.

Come Join an Event at Tijuana Reserve

Throughout the year, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is home to many festivals and special events for families to enjoy.

In April, the park hosts the City Nature Challenge. This challenge encourages participants to observe the wildlife of the park and keep track of all the plants and animals they see to rack up points.

In early May, World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated in appreciation of all the migratory birds and their journeys. Learn more about these amazing birds through nature walks, crafts and special presentations.

September is an important time for the reserve. On the third Saturday, Coastal Cleanup Day is held. This event is the largest beach and waterway cleanup program with data collection in the world.

This is a wonderful volunteer opportunity to help preserve Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve for years to come.

Best of the hiking trails

Tijuana Reserve is home to a variety of hiking trails that are good for all skill levels. You can also head to the Visitor’s Center to borrow a pair of binoculars to bring along. You may also like our article on the Best Hiking in San Diego!

If you are looking for a trail accessible to everyone, take the North McCoy Trail. It is a short trail that is flat and both accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.

The River Mouth Trail is one of the more popular trails. Here you can follow the trail along to the river mouth where you will find a peaceful and relaxing beach. Sit back, relax and wait for the birds to arrive!

On the beach, you can see brown pelicans, curlews and least terns. Dogs can join you on this trail, but please make sure they are on a leash.

The River Mouth Trail is also popular for bike riding, so make sure to keep an eye out for cyclists.

Equestrians are Welcome!

During the summertime, Border Field State Park at the Tijuana Reserve is the perfect spot for a horseback ride. The park has four staging areas where you can start your ride.

Don’t have your own horse? No problem! Call the Visitors’ Center and get information on horse rental.

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Getting to the Reserve

Free Parking
Free Parking
Lot Parking
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Street Parking
Street Parking

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is located approximately 30 minutes south of downtown San Diego just outside the Mexico border in Imperial Beach.

The trails are open daily, from dawn to dusk. The Visitor’s Center is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10am- 5pm, and closed on major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

From the I-5 South/North, take exit 4 Coronado Avenue, and head west on Coronado Avenue for 2.5 miles. The road will turn into Imperial Beach Boulevard as you keep straight. Turn left onto 3rd Street, and then left on Caspian Way, which leads into the parking lot, which is free.

The reserve is also accessible via public transportation. Check out the blue line trolley, and bus #933 and #944 to see which schedule best matches your location.

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Things to Know Before you Go

Rules and Restrictions

Camping at Tijuana River is strictly prohibited. If you are interested in camping, there are designated campgrounds in the area outside of the park. You can also check out our article on Camping in San Diego.

Tijuana River Reserve is a great place to have a group gathering. Whether it is a picnic, special event or celebration, the Border Field State Park area of the reserve is perfect.

Please note, if the gathering is more than 25 people, a permit is required. If the gathering has alcohol, you are required to obtain a separate permit. If you are using the park for commercial photography, you will need a Special Events permit as well.

Best Birdwatching

If birdwatching is your thing, Tijuana Reserve is the place for you. On the North McCoy Trail, during low tide, you can see shorebirds feeding on the mudflats. When high tide rolls in, you can see the Light-footed Clapper Rail in the high marsh.

Many migratory waterfowl and other species can be found in the brackish ponds of the reserve off the 5th St and Iris Trails. Look out for the California Brown Pelican!

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