The Tijuana River has a reputation for being a rather unclean watercourse, and deservedly so. A multitude of political and socioeconomic factors contribute to the pollution of the river, which flows north from Mexico into the U.S. before reaching the Pacific Ocean. While both countries have been working together to clean up the river and address the sources of pollution, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
When one hears about the trash and sewage contamination that plagues the Tijuana River, its natural to assume this is not a desirable area to visit and hike. But despite these issues, the Tijuana River Valley is home to miles of fantastic trails that wander through a variety of landscapes. There are paths with dense vegetation close to the river, large ponds and coastal wetlands full of migratory birds, open grasslands, and beaches. Here, nature demonstrates its incredible resiliency with a showcase of birds, mammals, butterflies, flowers, shrubs, and trees.
There’s a number of potential starting points for hikes around the Tijuana River Valley, but we wanted to check out the Bird and Butterfly Garden today, so chose that as our starting point. We found a small building with some parking in front and parked there. The Bird and Butterfly Garden was just behind the building.
Before setting off on our actual hike, we took some time to explore the Garden and the surrounding area. There was another staging area further up the road, and some additional trails that started from here. The sunflowers were blooming like crazy.
We found a short trail leading down to the river. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of trash along the trail, much of which was half-buried in the sand. We thought it was a little weird that so much garbage could accumulate along a trail that didn’t appear to be heavily used.
We found huge amounts of trash floating in the river. During heavy rains the river overflows its banks, and deposits much of its debris along the floodplain. It was really quite heartbreaking to see this otherwise beautiful area so horribly defiled.
We spotted a small rowboat tied to the shore. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a way to cross to the far shore, but there was no way I was getting anywhere near that water, so we turned around and headed back to the Bird and Butterfly Garden.
After wandering around and exploring for a while, it was time to start a proper hike. From the parking area, we headed back out to the street and turned right. We walked south along Hollister Street over a bridge that spanned the river. There wasn’t much of a shoulder for us to walk on, but the few cars that passed were slow and courteous (one guy even stopped to chat for a moment about bird watching). I suspect there’s a fair amount of horse traffic in the area, and drivers are accustomed to sharing the road.
From the bridge we could see down into the river bed below. We had a clear view of the sad state of the river – all manner of trash was accumulated along the shores, and the water looked disturbingly murky.
It looked like this creek filled when the Tijuana River flooded. We could see lots of trash and old tires buried deep in the sand. Once again, nature seemed to be adapting, as we saw numerous squirrels running along the creek bed and darting into burrows on the banks.
Towards the south, we spotted a Border Patrol vehicle perched on top of a hill, taking advantage of the vantage point to keep an eye on the area below. This close to the border one can expect a lot of surveillance activity, and I’m sure someone was keeping an eye on us, but we didn’t have any direct contact with law enforcement during our hike.
The trail was pretty rough in some spots. It appeared to have been trodden on by horses while muddy, leaving deep gouges in the soft earth. You’d definitely want to take the other path immediately after a rain storm.
We found some huge patches of flowering Nasturtium along the sides of the trail. It climbed its way up the trunks of trees and in some places very nearly formed a tunnel of bright orange-red flowers and broad, flat leaves.
This was probably the most lush vegetation I had ever seen in San Diego. I felt more like I was hiking in a tropical rain forest on some remote island then a heavily polluted riverbed in the arid southwest United States.
Here, we found a brown sign that marked the beginning of Border Field State Park. The trail continues on from here, and it’s possible to go all the way to the beach. In case you hike this with your dog, note that they’re not allowed past this point. We explored a bit further, but ran out of time since we had an afternoon commitment we had to get back for and had to turn around. For the purposes of this write-up, we’re calling this the turnaround point since it’s a logical stopping point.
From I-5 south, take the Tocayo Ave exit. Follow Tocayo Ave for approximately .4 mile, then turn left onto Hollister Street. Continue on Hollister Street for approximately .7 mile. The entrance to the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park Bird and Butterfly Garden will be on the right. map
|Total Distance:||4 miles|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
For more information, visit:
San Diego County Parks and Recreation – Tijuana River Valley Regional Park
View route or download GPX in CalTopo