Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Ridgway’s rail with crab at Bolsa Chica. Photo by: Steven Eric Smith
Ridgway’s rail with crab at Bolsa Chica
CDFW photo by Steven Eric Smith


The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is an approximately 1,300 acre coastal estuary. Habitats include open water, mudflats, salt marsh, coastal dunes, seabird nesting islands, riparian, and freshwater marsh. More than 200 avian species have been identified at Bolsa Chica and the reserve is very popular with birders and photographers.

For more information, call the Bolsa Chica Interpretive Center at (714) 846-1114 or the South Coast Region San Diego office at (858) 467-4201.

Recreational Opportunities

Wildlife Viewing Restrooms  Hiking Trails Information Kiosk or Visitor Center Either Guided or Self-guided Interpretive Nature Tours Disabled Access - call for details No Equestrian No Dogs No Bikes No Drones

This ecological reserve is adjacent to or shares marine habitat with a Marine Protected Area (MPA). For the public use regulations for MPAs, see Section 632, Title 14, CCR.

Activities: wildlife viewing, hiking, and tours

Each parking lot connects to a 4-mile network of public hiking trails, including scenic overlooks. Please note that due to active oil and gas production by California Resources Corporation, a portion of the reserve is closed to public access.

An interpretive center operated by the Bolsa Chica Conservancy is located by the north lot.

Free docent-led tours are provided by three non-government organizations: Amigos de Bolsa Chica, Bolsa Chica Conservancy and Bolsa Chica Land Trust. Each parking lot features a bulletin board with information.

NOTE: Visitors are responsible for knowing and complying with all regulations pertaining to the use of Department lands.

Refer to the Public Uses on State and Federal Lands section of the Waterfowl, Upland Game, and Public Use Regulations (PDF) booklet for both statewide and property-specific regulations.

no drones icon
You may not operate a drone on CDFW Lands without a Special Use Permit.

Area History

The total area of this reserve has increased over time. In the 1970s, the State acquired 300 acres of the Bolsa Chica wetlands. The property was designated as an ecological reserve by the Fish and Game Commission in 1993. In 2005, funds from proposition 50 allowed for the purchase of 118 acres on the Bolsa Chica Mesa. Finally in late 2006, following a major restoration project that included the creation of a new marine basin, an additional 923 acres was added bringing the total acreage to approximately 1,341.


Nesting bird species: Ridgway’s rail (formally light-footed clapper rail); Western snowy plover, California least tern, Belding’s Savannah sparrow, white-tailed kite, black skimmer, elegant tern, Forster’s tern, Caspian tern, white-faced ibis, American avocet and black-necked stilt

Other noteworthy birds: peregrine falcon, burrowing owl, California gnatcatcher, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s hawk, osprey, reddish egret, and tri-colored blackbird

Land mammals: coyote, raccoon, striped skunk, cottontail rabbit, California ground squirrel, pocket gopher, brown marsh rat, deer mice, and bats

Reptiles: California legless lizard, Southern Pacific rattlesnake, common king snake, San Diego gopher snake, two-striped garter snake, Southern alligator lizard, Western fence lizard and side-blotched lizard

Marine life: over 60 species of marine fishes, marine invertebrates, and occasionally California sea lion and green sea turtle

Plants: rushes, bulrushes, sedges, California sage, mule fat, and coyote bush

Rare and endangered plants: California seablite, woolly seablite, coast woolly-heads and red sand verbena

Map of Bolsa Chica ER - click to enlarge in new window
Click to enlarge


South Coast Region (Region 5)

Orange County

City of Huntington Beach

The reserve is bordered on the north by Warner Avenue, on the west by the Pacific Coast Highway and Bolsa Chica State Beach, on the south by Seapointe Avenue, and on the east by residential neighborhoods.

Directions: There are two public parking lots. The north lot is on Warner Ave near Pacific Coast Hwy (southeast corner of the intersection). The south lot is on Pacific Coast Hwy across from the State Beach.

CDFW Lands Viewer

Photo Gallery

28 MAR

An interpretive panel at Bolsa Chica’s south parking lot facing the pedestrian bridge spanning Inner Bolsa Bay. Photo by: Kelly O’Reilly.


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