Tijuana Estuary/Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge – North Coast Trail

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife RefugeWe had recently hiked the coast on the southern side of the Tijuana River in our visit to Border Field State Park, and decided today that we’d check out the north side. The North Coast trail is part of the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which, along with Border Field State Park and some county owned land to the east, make up the the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR).

While this stretch of beach lacks the dramatic cliffs  and rocky outcroppings found in the northern half of the county, it is fairly secluded and allows for a nice quiet walk along the water. The estuary to the east is the largest coastal wetland in Southern California. It is an important habitat for numerous native and migratory birds, as well as fish and other creatures.

We had been pleased to discover that leashed dogs were allowed on this small section of the coast, and were joined by our intrepid hiking companion Khan.

The amazing Khan

The trail began at the cul-de-sac at the end of Seacoast Drive. Midday on a Friday, we had no problems finding parking on the street. To the east was a wooden boardwalk and viewing area which had some interpretive signs and provided an expansive view of the estuary.

Looking out over the slough at the Tijuana River Estuary

We walked over towards the water and found a wide expanse of white sand adjacent to the water. A couple of volunteers from the TRNERR were set up with information about tides, birds in the area, and other useful information.

Volunteers from the Tijuana Estuary are available to provide information

Along the edge of the estuary was a raised rocky artificial dune one could walk along. We decided we’d walk along the water’s edge on our southbound journey, then return along the dune.

A raised dune separates the beach from the estuary

We passed a couple of people set up on the beach with their towels and blankets, but after less than a quarter mile or so, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Hiking the North Coast trail at the Tijuana River Estuary

Except of course for the birds. Like the southern side of the river we visited previously, this area was a haven for all kinds of interesting shorebirds.



Unfortunately being a weekday, there was a significant amount of activity from another, much louder, kind of bird:

Helicopters are a frequent sight at the Tijuana Estuary

Just beyond the estuary lies a Naval Landing Field, where they practice helicopter landings pretty much constantly every day except Sunday. For the most part it wasn’t too disturbing as the roar of the ocean managed to drown out most of the engine noise. I suspect it’s much more irritating along the more inland trails of the estuary.

The raised dune to the east disappeared after a little bit, and we were left with just a wide expanse of sand between the water and the roped off protected area.

The beach along the North Coast Trail at Tijuana River Estuary

We encountered some washed up ocean plant life, which Khan bravely investigated to make sure it wouldn’t harm us. His verdict: safe, but inedible.

Safety Inspector Khan checks out some washed up kelp

Around 1 mile, we came to the Tijuana River outlet, and our turnaround point. Looking across to the south we could make out the buildings just on the other side of the border, including the Plaza de Toros.

Outlet of the Tijuana River

Looking out to sea towards the south, we could see the hazy outline of the Coronado islands.

Looking out at the Coronado Islands from the Tijuana River Estuary

We turned around and headed back up the beach, this time walking along the edge of the estuary. A rope fence along the edge of the slough kept us out of the area inhabited by nesting birds, including the endangered Least Tern and Snowy Plover.

A sign warns visitors not to disturb the sensitive nesting areas at the Tijuana Estuary

We still had some beautiful views of the wetland, and Mt Miguel in the distance

View of Mt Miguel from the Tijuana Estuary

We reached the beginning of the raised section, and traversed the small ridge for the remainder of our journey.

Hiking along the man made dune between the beach and estuary

View the full photo gallery

From 5 south, take the Coronado Ave exit. Turn right onto Coronado Ave., continue as Coronado turns into Imperial Beach Blvd. Turn left onto Seacoast Drive, follow to the end (less than 1 mile) and park along the street. map

Total Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Change: Negligible
Best Time of Year: Year round. Go on a Sunday to avoid noise from helicopter training.
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs are allowed
Bike Friendly?: No bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
US Fish & Wildlife Service – Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

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