- Home - Hiking Trails - Orange County Hiking Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Hike
Nestled in the community of Newport Beach, the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve hike offers a fun and easy 3-mile hike that offers great views of Upper Newport Bay and world-class wildlife spotting. The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is home to some 200 bird species, including some endangered species, making it a top bird watching destination in the USA. This loop hike takes you down along the shore of Upper Newport Bay, then back along the bluffs overlooking the bay that offer great views.
3 miles (4.8 km)
Unmarked Park Trails
Bay Views and Wildlife
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Hike Trail Maps
Google Maps trailhead:
2301 University Dr, Newport Beach, CA, 92660, USA Hike Location Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is located about 15 minutes from Irvine, 50 minutes from downtown LA, and about 80 minutes north of San Diego. 3D Hike Map The hike hugs the Upper Newport Bay shoreline for the first half, and then returns along the bluffs. Hike Elevation Profile There's some very short ups and downs, but otherwise this hike is easy. Interactive Hike Map Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Hike Map Downloads View a Printable PDF Hike Map Download the Hike GPX File Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Hike Directions What to Expect on the Hike This whole area, run by the Orange County Parks Department, encompasses about 1,000 acres of open space, all tucked into the middle of busy Newport Beach. The actual Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is 135 acres and sits on the north side of Newport Back Bay, offering great views of the whole coastal wetland, one of the largest in southern California. The Upper Newport Bay is where San Diego Creek (I know, we’re not near San Diego) empties to the Pacific Ocean. San Diego Creek carries much of the nutrient-rich water down from the Santa Ana Mountains, making it a great place for wildlife to feed. If you keep going down Upper Newport Bay, it opens up to Newport Harbor, where people keep their fancy boats. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is very popular with bird watchers, especially during migration periods, when there can be up to 35,000 birds here at once. Keep your eye out for (the rarer) white pelicans, the (endangered) burrowing owl, and the bobcat. Easier to spot are the numerous osprey, brown pelicans, great blue heron, egret, and mullet jumping from the water. The first part of the hike takes you down along the shores of the Upper Newport Bay, which is much less traveled than the rest of the park. The second half of the hike takes you back along the bluffs, passing several scenic overlook points where you can take it all in from about 75 feet above the bay. A minute or two after the start, you’ll arrive at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, which has great exhibits on all of the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, including a fish tank. It’s run by the Newport Bay Conservancy (check the website out for more wildlife info), and is well worth the visit. Parking and admission to the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center is free. Bathrooms are in the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center. Some sections along the bay can be muddy, so waterproof footwear is a smart option. Turn by Turn Hike Directions
There are a lot of twists and turns in these hike directions. If you get lost, don’t sweat it, the park is small and you’ll probably be easy to find your way.
Look for the park entrance tucked into a residential neighborhood. The parking lot is pretty huge, but does get popular with locals, especially on weekends. The trailhead is in the lot where you first pull in to park. Follow the trail downhill from the trailhead. If you want to make a short detour, head to the observation deck which is on the roof of the Muth Interpretive Center. Otherwise continue downhill. As you hike downhill you’ll see the Muth Interpretive Center to your left. That’s your next stop. Checkout the cool sculpture on the Muth Interpretive Center plaza. Check the park website link in this article to get the Muth Interpretive Center hours. There are many great interpretive displays that explain every aspect of the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve in an easy to understand way. My favorite part is the fish tank with species that you find in Upper Newport Bay. When you’re done in the interpretive center, make the left and head through the employee parking lot. Continue toward the bike path and then make the right. Hike down in the fenced-in section of trail. At the end of the fenced section, make the right at the creek. The trail follows along the creek. You can take the smaller upper trail and get closer to the water. Keep your eyes open for mullet. When you cross the bridge, continue along the creek. The trail starts to head uphill to the bluff. Throughout the hike you’ll see numerous side trails. Remember that this is a fragile habitat and stay on the main trails. The fauna includes the endangered Saltmarsh Bird’s Beak herb. At the top of the hill hike to the left. Keep hiking to the left. Avoid the trails to the right and continue hiking along the trail closest to the cliff. Okay, this junction is important but easy to miss. First, check out the overlook area, then head down the next left to hike down to the waterfront. The overlook is a cool little area. There are more of these on the way back. Leave the overlook and head down the second left from the former picture. You’ll hike down some steps toward the shoreline. Avoid the trails inland and head to the path along the shore. Keep your eyes open for sardines and mullet. At the end of the shoreline portion of the trail, continue to the right and head inland. The trail heads towards the foot of the bluffs. You’ll notice so debris and flotsam down here. If there’s a storm surge or unusually high tide, this area might be underwater, in which case you need to turn around and go back. But usually it’s okay. Time your trip for low tide in Newport Bay for the best chances. The trail frequently splits and comes back together. Take the trail on the left in general for the best views. If it’s too wet there, hike to the right. Midway on this section there’s a nice bench to take in the views. Some sections can be wet and muddy. Good boots help here.It all depends on how high the tide has been. At the end of the waterfront stretch, head up the hill at the big palm. Make the left at the top of that little hill. Cross the small bridge. Once across the bridge, make the quick left and then this right. After that right, go up the small hill and make the left. The trail heads along a lower bluff on the water. This section of trail is occasionally overgrown. Respect the bird habitat and don’t head down to the water. This section of trail has some nice views onto sand spits where shorebirds often hang out. At the end of this section of trail, make the right, avoiding the steep uphill trail. Stay on the wider main trail, avoiding any small trails to the right. At the larger intersection, make the right. The left turn heads to the street. Again, stay on the main trail avoiding any smaller side trails. You’ll cross a small bridge. The trail starts to climb. The trail dead ends into the bike path. Make the right here. Head down the paved bike path for a while. When you reach this little bridge, make the right turn to head up this trail, hiking up the hill. Randomly there’s a trail sign here, but nowhere else. Keep heading straight up the main trail. Stay left and avoid the smaller (unofficial) trails along the bluff. There are a few scenic overviews as you hike back along the bluffs. You’ll get nice views out toward Newport Bay. You also get views east toward Saddleback Mountain. When the trail dips and climbs, hike to the right. Keep straight at the big junction. One last overview on this section. Eventually the trail intersects with the bike path again. Make the right. Continue straight on the dirt trail next to the bike path, passing any side trails. Eventually you’ll see a trail bearing off to the right the heads into the parking lot where you started. Take that to head back. And that’s it, you’re back at the parking lot where you started. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Hike Video Please subscribe to my YouTube channel here! 360° VR Hike Video
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Read More A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.
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