Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve

In This Guide
  • What To See and Do at the Preserve
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • Maps For the Hike
  • What Gear You Need
  • Parking Info
Distance3 miles (4.8 km)
Time2 hours
DifficultyEasy
Total Climbing320 feet (98m)
Highest Elevation75 feet (23m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
ParkUpper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Park Phone949-923-2290

Nestled in the community of Newport Beach, the Bluff and Bay Trail Loop in Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve 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 guide has an easy and fun loop hike that takes you on trails down along the shore of Upper Newport Bay, then back along the bluffs overlooking the bay that offer great views.

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve Birds
There’s lots of great wildlife spotting on this hike. Photo by Nandaro.

What To Look For At Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Parking & Directions

Here’s the address and link for the entrance to the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve: 2301 University Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660. 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.

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Here’s what the entrance to the park looks like. There are big (free) parking lots here but it does gut busy on weekend mornings.

What You Need For the Hike

This isn’t a hardcore hike that requires any special gear. The only thing is that the lower trail can be muddy, so good hiking boots or waterproof sneakers would be smart. Here’s what I would take.

Garmin inreach review

If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.

See The Gear I Use

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing some form of paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve 3d map
The hike hugs the Upper Newport Bay shoreline for the first half, and then returns along the bluffs. The hike is mainly flat aside from some minor ups and downs.

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve 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. You can also pick up a map at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, but it only has the main trails on it.

Want to see this in 360/VR? I have a version of this video where you can pan around in 360 degrees and see every angle of every trail junction, etc. - check it out here on YouTube

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Step-by-Step Directions

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The parking lot is pretty huge, but does get popular with locals, especially on weekends.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trailhead is in the lot where you first pull in to park.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Follow the trail downhill from the trailhead.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
As you hike downhill you’ll see the Muth Interpretive Center to your left. That’s your next stop.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Checkout the cool sculpture on the Muth Interpretive Center plaza.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Check the park website link in this article to get the Muth Interpretive Center hours.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
There are many great interpretive displays that explain every aspect of the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve in an easy to understand way.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
My favorite part is the fish tank with species that you find in Upper Newport Bay.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
When you’re done in the interpretive center, make the left and head through the employee parking lot.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Continue toward the bike path and then make the right.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Hike down in the fenced-in section of trail.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
At the end of the fenced section, make the right at the creek.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trail follows along the creek.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
You can take the smaller upper trail and get closer to the water. Keep your eyes open for mullet.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
When you cross the bridge, continue along the creek.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trail starts to head uphill to the bluff.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
At the top of the hill hike to the left.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Keep hiking to the left.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Avoid the trails to the right and continue hiking along the trail closest to the cliff.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The overlook is a cool little area. There are more of these on the way back.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Leave the overlook and head down the second left from the former picture. You’ll hike down some steps toward the shoreline.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Avoid the trails inland and head to the path along the shore.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Keep your eyes open for sardines and mullet.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
At the end of the shoreline portion of the trail, continue to the right and head inland.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trail heads towards the foot of the bluffs.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Midway on this section there’s a nice bench to take in the views.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Some sections can be wet and muddy. Good boots help here.It all depends on how high the tide has been.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
At the end of the waterfront stretch, head up the hill at the big palm.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Make the left at the top of that little hill.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Cross the small bridge.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Once across the bridge, make the quick left and then this right.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
After that right, go up the small hill and make the left.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trail heads along a lower bluff on the water.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
This section of trail is occasionally overgrown.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Respect the bird habitat and don’t head down to the water.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
This section of trail has some nice views onto sand spits where shorebirds often hang out.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
At the end of this section of trail, make the right, avoiding the steep uphill trail.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Stay on the wider main trail, avoiding any small trails to the right.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
At the larger intersection, make the right. The left turn heads to the street.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Again, stay on the main trail avoiding any smaller side trails.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
You’ll cross a small bridge.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trail starts to climb.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
The trail dead ends into the bike path. Make the right here.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Head down the paved bike path for a while.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
When you reach this little bridge, make the right turn to head up this trail, hiking up the hill.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Randomly there’s a trail sign here, but nowhere else.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Keep heading straight up the main trail.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Stay left and avoid the smaller (unofficial) trails along the bluff.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
There are a few scenic overviews as you hike back along the bluffs.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
You’ll get nice views out toward Newport Bay.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
You also get views east toward Saddleback Mountain.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
When the trail dips and climbs, hike to the right.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Keep straight at the big junction.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
One last overview on this section.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Eventually the trail intersects with the bike path again. Make the right.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Continue straight on the dirt trail next to the bike path, passing any side trails.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
And that’s it, you’re back at the parking lot where you started.

You can help other hikers. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and email me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.

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