Border Field State Park – Coast Trail

Border Field State ParkConfession time: I’ve lived in San Diego for 18 years, and I hardly ever go to the beach. You have to find parking, there’s frequently large groups of people, you get sand in weird places, and hanging out at the beach usually means long periods of sitting still in the hot sun… I mean, I don’t hate it or anything, but aside from taking the dogs to run loose on Fiesta Island, when we’re looking to get outside we pretty much always choose to go hiking rather than hitting the beach.

But then comes summer, and it gets too hot to enjoy most of our favorite hiking trails. If only there were some magical way to combine the cooler temperatures and refreshing ocean waters found at the beach with our preferred activity of hiking… Duh. We can hike at the beach!

Border Field State Park (BFSP) occupies the southwest corner of the continental United States. The Park is situated right between the US-Mexico border and the Tijuana River (which despite the name, is in the US), and is part of the Tijuana River National Esutarine Research Reserve (the Reserve also includes the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the north).

There’s a few important things to know when planning your visit to BFSP:

  • While the park itself is open 7 days a week, due to budgetary issues the main gate is only open on weekends. On weekdays, you are welcome to park in the dirt lot immediately in front of the gate and walk in. It is about a mile from the gate to reach the beach.
  • If you do drive through the main gate, there is a $5 entrance fee per vehicle.
  • During the winter months, the park roads are frequently closed to vehicles due to flooding. You can check the current status of the roads here or call (619) 575-3613. Again, if the gate is closed you can park outside and walk in.
  • The Coast Guard and Border Patrol frequently do helicopter training in the immediate area. This causes a great deal of noise. If you prefer a quieter trip, go on a Sunday when there is no training.
  • Border Patrol personnel are evident at the park. At times, there may be a checkpoint set up for which identification is requested. Make sure you have your Driver’s License or other ID with you.

Since this was our first visit to the park, we weren’t sure where we were going. We debated whether we should park outside the main entrance and walk, or pay the $5 and drive in. We weren’t sure how long of a walk it would be so opted to drive. Going back now and looking at Google maps it appears the trail from the gate to the beach is only about 1 mile long, but after visiting the park I’m pretty sure they need the $5, so I don’t feel so bad about this decision.

We drove along the old road and followed the signs to “Beach/Playa.” The road and parking lot here were a bit run down but no worse than many trail heads in more rural areas. We parked near the bathrooms, which upon inspection were all out of order. There was a functioning port-a-potty in the lot.

From the parking lot we just went straight west until we hit the beach. Signs here warned against swimming due to riptides and large holes. To the south there was a couple hundred feet of sand and then the border fence extending out into the ocean. On the other side of the fence we could see large numbers of people playing on the beach and enjoying the water. Our side of the fence was completely deserted.Fence along the US-Mexico border at Border Field State Park

To the north there was a wide strip of beach open for hiking, and a rope fence to the right delineating an off limits area where endangered Least Terns and Snowy Plovers were nesting. Signs instructed us to stay on wet/compacted sand to avoid disturbing the nesting birds.Protected nesting area at Border Field State Park

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this hike. The path is a straight shot up the coastline and back. It was very quiet and pleasant, and we enjoyed watching the numerous different birds that inhabit the area. Solitude and cool breezes make Border Field State Park a great place to visit during the hot summer months

Flocks of Sandpipers gathered along the water’s edge:A flock of sandpipers along the beach at Border Field State Park

We spotted the occasional Curlew as well:A curlew on the beach at Border Field State Park

We saw the endangered, yet adorable, Snowy Plover:20140713SnowyPlover4665

The Least Tern:A Least Tern at Border Field State Park

And a magnificent cormorant flew over usA cormorant fliest over us at Border Field State Park

We passed a few horseback riders and one guy walking his bicycle, but otherwise pretty much had the entire place to ourselves.Horses are allowed on the beach at Border Field State Park

The strong ocean breeze and overcast skies were the perfect antidote to hot summer weather. Looking out across the water, we could see the silhouettes of the Coronado Islands in the south, the distant outline of Point Loma to the north, and a few ships along the horizon to the west.The hazy outline of the Coronado islands off the coast of Baja California

After about .5 mile, we encountered an intersection with the “Beach Trail”, which is the path that connects the main gate to the beach.Trail intersection at Border Field State Park

Around 1 mile from our starting point, we encountered the outlet of the Tijuana River. We followed the river’s edge inland for a little bit until the sand ended and we were met with the marshy banks of the river, then turned around and headed back to the beach parking area. The round-trip mileage for our hike along the Coast Trail was 2.4 miles.The Tijuana River meets the Pacific Ocean at Border Field State Park

Once back at the parking area, we decided to go check out the Monument Picnic area. A short gravel path ran from the beach parking area, behind the defunct restrooms, and up the hill to the picnic area.A short gravel path leads from the beach parking area up to the Monument Picnic Area

After ascending the hill we made a clockwise loop around the area. We found a number of cement picnic tables, and several different viewing areas that offered some nice views of the Tijuana River Valley to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The picnic area also houses a nice bathroom and drinking fountains.View of the Tijuana River Valley from Monument Picnic Area

Along the southern edge was the border fence. A section known as “Friendship Park” allows people on either side of the border to talk to each other through the fence, but is only open during certain times under scrutiny of Border Patrol Agents.The fence at Border Field State Park

On the other side of the fence were numerous buildings and houses, as well as the “Plaza de Toros” bullring.Plaza de los Toros

Our loop around the picnic area added about ½ mile to our total distance.

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From 5 South, take the Tocayo Ave exit, continue west on Tocayo. Turn left onto Hollister Street. Turn right onto Monument Road. Follow Monument Road to the Park. map

Total Distance: 2.4 miles (Coast Trail only)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Change: Negligible
Best Time of Year: Spring, Summer, Fall. Go on a Sunday to avoid noise from helicopter training.
Dog Friendly?: Dogs are not permitted on trails (except service dogs). Leashed dogs are allowed in the picnic area only.
Bike Friendly?: Bikes are allowed on the main road but not on trails.
Facilities: Pit toilets at the beach parking lot. Full bathrooms and drinking fountain available at the Monument Mesa picnic area.
Fees/Permits: $5 entrance fee per vehicle, or park outside main gate for free

For more information visit:
CA State Parks – Border Field State Park
Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

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