Tijuana River Valley Regional Park (Northeast)

Entranced to the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park

Tijuana River Valley Regional Park (which is NOT actually in Tijuana) is an almost 1700 acre park in the South Bay region of San Diego. The park hosts over 20 miles of interconnected dog-friendly trails open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The park is adjacent to the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve and offers some great opportunities for bird-watching.

This was our first excursion to the park, so it was more of an exploratory hike. Some initial investigation on Google maps showed a large pond very close to a trail head on the eastern side of the park. Being fall bird migration season, I quickly decided this would be the optimal starting point for our adventure. We had some vague ideas about hiking out to the Bird and Butterfly Garden and back, but were more interested in just seeing what there was out here.

We arrived at the trail head mid-morning and found your standard dirt parking lot with a wooden kiosk. A posted map of the area shows the many trails that cross the river valley and surrounding areas. We compared the posted map to our tiny printed version I had downloaded from the county web site, and plotted our course.

Tijuana River Valley trail head kiosk

We set off down the wide dirt path and admired the lush riparian surroundings.

Start of the Tijuana River Valley trail near Dairy Mart pond

Almost immediately we came upon a turnout on the right side of the trail which led to a blind for viewing birds in the pond below.

A blind at the Dairy Mart pond allows you to view birds without frightening them

We walked right around the wooden structure to get a better view of this amazing little spot. Dozens of egrets stood in the shallow water before us. We also spotted a night heron roosting on one of the many dry branches protruding from the water, and a number of sandpipers poking about the mud on the edge of the water. There were other birds as well, too far away to see clearly. If you’re into birding, grab your binoculars and pack a lunch, because this is a fantastic spot to spend some time.

Egrets and herons are among the many visitors to the Dairy Mart pond

We left the blind somewhat reluctantly and headed up the trail. We were quickly rewarded with another viewing area overlooking the pond. In addition to the egrets and other large birds down in the water, there were numerous hummingbirds and dragonflies buzzing around the bushes in front of us.

Another turnout offers further views of the pond

After enjoying the antics of the birds we headed back to the trail and continued on. The dirt path was wide and well maintained, and a variety of thick brush and trees, including willows and toyon, grew high on either side.

The trail at Tijuana River Valley Regional Park is wide and smooth

At .3 mile we came to our first intersection. To the left, a wooden boardwalk with a gravel path alongside led south through the towering bushes. We continued straight but contemplated returning along that route.

A wooden boardwalk takes you through the brush

We continued on for another third of a mile or so, winding through willows and tall, dry grass, until we came upon another intersection. This junction formed a “T”, leaving us with a choice of left or right. We headed left (south) for no particular reason.

Another trail intersection

The trail continued through the thick riparian brush and dry grasses. We spotted a couple of areas that were roped off or had neon orange webbing along the trail side. We assumed they’re doing work in the area to make the trails even more awesome.

Signs of trail improvement projects at Tijuana Valley Regional Park

After a quarter mile or so, we came to another “T” junction and headed right. As we walked we observed the motley assortment of plant life taking advantage of the river’s moisture including large stands of non-indigenous bamboo.

A myriad of foliage types inhabit the Tijuana River Valley

Around 1.25 miles, we found the trees and brush so prolific that the willows overhead spanned across the trail forming botanical tunnels for us to pass through. Despite the dense foliage, the trail remained wide and well defined.

Dense trees form a tunnel along the Tijuana River Valley

At 1.4 miles, we encountered another intersection, where we stayed on the left branch. The trail side remained full of dense greenery.

Another intersection

I began to feel as though I had left San Diego and was exploring the Florida Everglades or a tropical rain forest.

Dense growth along the Tijuana River Valley is reminiscent of a rain forest

Eventually, at a little over 1.5 miles, the trail emerged from the overgrown trees and we found ourselves in a slightly more exposed area. Before long we came to another trail intersection decorated with more neon orange webbing and made yet another left turn. The smooth dirt path wound through the brush, and we soon came along the back edge of a small farm. From Google Maps, it appears this is the Wild Willow Farm & Education Center. The one review on Google says there are cute goats, but we didn’t see any goats as we passed. Goats are awesome, so now I feel slightly let down.

Passing alongside a farm, with no goats in view

The trail continued along the edge of the Farm and we soon came upon a stand of overgrown pine trees along the edge of Hollister Street.

The trail crosses Hollister Street

We also found a “Trails Under Construction” sign here, which probably explains some of the roped off areas. It will be interesting to see how this trail system progresses in the future.

Trails under construction sign

We carefully made our way across the street and found ourselves at the edge of the Community Garden. The trail splits in several directions at this point. Heading south along Hollister Street will take you to the Bird & Butterfly Garden, which is kind of where we had intended to go but as our map was somewhat insufficient we didn’t make it there. We ended up turning right and walking along the edge of the Garden.

The Community Garden is a pretty cool idea. Local residents who don’t have garden space of their own can rent a small plot of land and raise their own produce and flowers. This provides many benefits, including increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and the tremendous associated health benefits, an increased sense of community, and the therapeutic benefits of working outdoors. We saw a number of people, many with their children, tending their plots as we passed.

The Tijuana River Valley Regional Park Community Garden

At the end of the block, the trail continued to the left along Sunset Avenue. Here we found more evidence of ongoing trail improvement projects.

More evidence of ongoing trail improvement projects

We continued to the end of the road where the trail appeared to turn left and travel behind the Community Garden area. We’d gone about 2.5 miles at this point, and had become increasingly confounded by the trail map we’d downloaded from the County web site. We decided to call it a day and file this one under “exploratory hikes” (because that sounds better than “we have no idea where we’re going”).

The trail runs alongside Sunset Ave

We retraced our route to get back to our car, stopping for another bout of bird watching at the pond.

View the full photo gallery

From 5 South, take the Dairy Mart Road exit. Turn right onto Dairy Mart Road, continue for about .2 miles – the parking area will be on your right. map

Total Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: Negligible
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information visit:
San Diego County Parks & Recreation: Tijuana River Valley Regional Park
Trail Map

2 thoughts on “Tijuana River Valley Regional Park (Northeast)

  1. Thank you for the trail description, I’ve hiked border field and the estuary north of tj river, and this southern area has been on my must hike list. I will try a 20 mile loop here soon, I’ll let you guys know any additional trails I find! Can’t wait to wander out here, I didn’t realize the vegetation was so lush!

    • Awesome, let us know how it goes! There’s a lot of trails down there, we’ve been meaning to head back and do some more exploring so we’d love to hear what you find.