Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||4.5 miles (7.2 km)|
|Hike Time||2 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||20 feet (6m)|
|Highest Elevation||30 feet (9m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free|
|Park Website||Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve|
With great opportunities for wildlife spotting, this easy Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve hike takes you on a scenic loop through the 1,300+ acres of protected wetlands just minutes from the Huntington Beach. The scenery includes seabird nesting islands, fresh and saltwater marsh, mudflats, active riparian river banks, and water. Over 200 species of birds have been spotted here, and it’s a popular stopover on bird migration routes. The hike is great for families with opportunities to shorten the route if 4.5 miles is too long.
Getting to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
The hike starts at the north parking area of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which is easier to get to from all directions. There is also a south parking area, but you can only access it when going north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Make sure you have the right parking area in your GPS.
If the lot is full, there are a few parking lots across the street. I’m not telling you to park there because they’re for the folks that use the stores there, but just so you know…
Bolsa Chica Conversancy, 3842 Warner Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92649
Gear For the Hike
None of the trails here are rough or hardcore, it’s all very smooth and easy. You can do this hike in fitness gear or even jeans in a pinch. If you do the hike around midday it can get hot, there is no shade on the hike. Bring lots of water if that’s the case. There are no drinking fountains.
Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
Great for all hikes – short ones to 10+ miles Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.
This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.
Joby tripods attach to anything. The legs are adjustable and grippy, so you can put them on trees, packs, rocks, whatever. And they work like regular tripods too. Works with everything from smartphones to DSLRs.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Website visitors get 20% off orders over $30 with the coupon code WEBFAN
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Trail Maps
Simple Trail Map
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Hike Map Downloads
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
How the Park Came To Be
The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve has an interesting history that’s worth briefly understanding about before you hike the trails.
- Native Americans have been a presence in the wetlands from 8,000 years ago, taking advantage of the rich food sources.
- When California was part of Mexico, ranchers owned this area. This area was named Rancho La Bolsa Chica or “The Little Purse” because the mesas and hills of the area looked like purses stacked next to one another, with the smallest one here.
- Gringos made their way here and in 1900 the Bolsa Chica Gun Club was started. With all the wildlife in the area, you can see why they’d want to go duck hunting. The gun club dammed up the wetlands to form freshwater ponds that were more attractive to ducks. There’s an interesting history of the gun club and drama surrounding it here.
- In the 1920s Standard Oil started drilling here. You can still see some oil pumps on the hike today.
- In the 1960s developers owned by the oil company wanted to build houses at Bolsa Chica because that’s what they do. The local community started to push back, and in 1976 the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women created the Amigos de Bolsa Chica. Over the next 30 years, the Amigos and later the Bolsa Chica Land Trust battled with the developers to protect the land, and in 2006 the area became roughly the 1300+ acres you see today.
Wildlife of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
There are over 200 species of wildlife that you can find in the park. In general, you can expect to see lots of ducks and waterfowl, shorebirds, herons and egrets, hawks, owls, lizards, and maybe a rabbit. Keep your eyes open for the endangered western snowy plover and California least tern. You’ll also probably see birdwatchers with their massive thousand dollar lenses. Pay attention to where they’re pointing their cameras, there’s probably something worth seeing there.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Hike Directions
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Turn By Turn Directions
If you’d like to get more involved with the Bolsa Chica wetlands, check out the Bolsa Chica Conservancy. They offer group tours and opportunities to volunteer.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
If you see trash on the trail, please pick it up and carry it out. Be a good egg and practice no trace principles.