Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve


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Sunset from the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Marbled Godwit at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Text and photography copyright 2010 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved.  Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability.  All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

  • Location: Pacific Coast Highway between Huntington Beach and Sunset Beach, across from Bolsa Chica State Beach.  From I-405, take Seal Beach Blvd. to its end at Pacific Coast Highway and head left (south) for 4.5 miles.  You’ll pass the entrance to the reserve (across the street from the beach), and take a U-turn and head back.  Alternately, take I-405 to Golden West, go south on Golden West for 4 miles and take a right on Garfield.  Go 0.8 miles to Garfield’s end at Seapoint, take a left on Seapoint and go to its end, 0.7 miles to Pacific Coast Highway.  Head right on Pacific Coast Highway, go 1.5 miles and turn right into the reserve.
  • Agency: Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: “Seal Beach”
  • More information: here; trip report here
  • Rating: 4

The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is an easy and convenient way to get out into nature.  It might not be wilderness–you are right next to the noise of the traffic on Pacific Coast Highway and the area’s popularity precludes any chance of solitude–but it’s really the place on the coast between San Pedro and Corona Del Mar where one can do anything that even resembles hiking.   It’s also a great place to see birds, including egrets, cormorants, sandpipers and pelicans.  Lots and lots of pelicans.  Add to that clear-day views of Old Saddleback, Baldy and Catalina Island – plus great sunsets – and you’ve got a pretty decent little package.

From the parking area, cross a wooden bridge to begin your loop (check out the interpretive plaques describing the various wildlife of the area before you start).  The path travels through the wetlands and heads left onto a small ridge.  You head northwest, more or less paralleling Pacific Coast Highway.  After a little over half a mile, you come to a gate where the trail splits.  To the right, you can climb up a small hill to an overlook, where there are benches and more interpretive displays.  You can also extend your hike on some of the other trails (including one that goes all the way to Warner Ave), or you can make this your turnaround point.

Back at the junction, continue past the first trail toward P.C.H. and take a left just before the highway.  Follow the path, which alternates between gravel and dirt, half a mile back to the parking area.

While the San Juan Loop might have been my first “official” So-Cal hike, this was one of the few outdoor areas I took the time to explore before I became a true hike geek.  It’s a great place to visit for people who aren’t aware of how much nature is in Orange County, and when the conditions are best, it’s got enough scenery and wildlife to keep veteran hikers coming back.

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