The Tijuana Estuary is more than just a vast expanse of wetlands and home to over 50 diverse bird species. It is also an ideal hiking destination with numerous, lightly trafficked foot trails.
Just a twenty minute drive from downtown San Diego, the Tijuana Estuary is often overlooked because it is somewhat off the beaten path in Imperial Beach. It encompasses four-square miles of tideland expanse managed by numerous national, state, and local agencies. Thanks to their combined efforts, the Tijuana Estuary has been saved from commercial and housing developments. This site is also the largest coastal wetland and one of the last remaining salt marshes in Southern California.
The Tijuana Estuary features over 4 miles of well-maintained trails, sweeping views of both Imperial Beach and Tijuana, Mexico, and strategically placed benches for prime bird-watching opportunies. While slightly off the grid, this is a location all nature lovers should make a point of visiting.
Whether you are just getting into hiking or a seasoned vet, the Tijuana Estuary trails have something to offer everyone.
Trails to Check Out
North McCoy Trail: This trail is the shortest in length (0.3-miles) but provides a good introduction to what the Tijuana Estuary has to offer. Because of its short distance and flatness, it is both wheel chair and stroller accessible. To reach this trail, park in the Visitor Center’s parking lot. From the parking lot, continue forward and the North McCoy Trail will be the first trail you approach. It will be marked by a small sign on your lefthand side.
This out and back trail takes you through the wetlands, across a wood bridge, and dead ends at a bench with stellar views. From the bench, you’ll see the South McCoy trail across the way, however this trail is not accessible from the North McCoy trail.
South McCoy Trail: This trail spans 1.5-miles in length. To access the South McCoy Trail, park in the Visitor Center parking lot and follow the River Mouth Trail trail to the left, near Grove Avenue. It will take you past a residential neighborhood and the U.S. Navy Outlying Landing Field. The trail will eventually fork. Continue to the right, towards the Visitor Center in the distance. The trail will dead end at yet another bench at the Brackish Ponds.
Retrace your steps back toward the aircraft field to return to the Visitor Center Parking lot.
River Mouth Trail: The River Mouth Trail is 2.6-miles round trip. It can also be accessed by taking the farthest trail to the left and passing the residential neighborhood and Navy Outlying Landing Field. At the fork, continue along the trail to reach the river mouth. Once again you’ll find another bench, where you can find solace listening to the waves lapping in the distance. Keep your eyes open; brown pelicans, curlews, and least terns can be seen at this location. Bikes and dogs are permitted on this trail.
North Beach Trail: This trail is a short 1.5-miles out and back trail that takes you to a secluded beach. The trail can be reached by driving to the south end of Seacoast Drive. To reach the beach you’ll first need to climb over rocks. Continue along the beach south, away from the condominiums and houses. At 0.8-miles, you’ll arrive at the mouth of the Tijuana River. Take in the views, enjoy the solitude, and re-trace your steps back to the beginning.
South Beach Trail: The South Beach Trail allows you to walk 1.5-miles along a secluded beach. This trail can be reached by parking at the Border Field State Park. From the entrance gate, walk west until you reach the beach. From the beach, choose between walking north to reach the Tijuana Rivermouth or south to Monument Mesa. Please note that dogs are not permitted on this trail.
Tijuana Estuary Tips
Tip #1: Take a free guided bird walk to see and identify the countless different birds found at the estuary. For a current schedule, click here.
Tip #2: Stop by the Visitor Center before hitting the trails to borrow a pair of binoculars for bird-watching. Please note you’ll need to leave an identification card behind in exchange for the binoculars.
Tip #3: There is no admission fee to park in the lot for the Tijuana Estuary Trails or to check out the Visitor Center.
Tip #4: The land here is protected. Do not disrupt or remove any of the planets, shells, or rocks here.
Tip #5: The Tijuana Estuary only gets a few visitors at a time, even on peak weekend hours. Come here if you are looking for a quiet and serene place to visit.
From downtown San Diego: Take I-5 South toward Imperial Beach. Take exit 4 for Coronado Avenue. Turn right onto Coronado Avenue. Continue on Coronado Avenue for 2.6 miles. Turn left onto 3rd Street and follow the signs for the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center. Park in the dirt lot for the visitor center.
Total Distance: 4 miles
Trailhead Address: 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932
Resources: Tijuana Estuary Trails Map