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Plan Your Visit

SDNWR with McGinty outlinedThere are three main trailheads at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.  Click on one of the trailheads on the left-hand navigation for more information and directions.

These trailheads are the best areas for viewing the diverse wildlife of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Here, habitats include coastal sage scrub, riparian forest, and chaparral communities, and are home to many threatened and endangered species. Trails are currently open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Be sure to bring your binoculars and camera!

The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset.  Limited parking is allowed in designated parking areas only. No overnight parking is allowed. Wildlife observation and photography are encouraged. Please stay on trails to help us restore habitat for plants and animals, and for your safety.

Hunting is not permitted. Firearms and other weapons are subject to state law. Other prohibitions on the refuge are dogs off-leash; off-road vehicles; and collecting of plants, animals, minerals, antlers and artifacts.

While exploring the refuge, we have a few safety precautions you must remember:

  • Stay on trails.  If a trail looks too narrow, is eroding, or is too uneven/steep, then do not take it.  The refuge is currently undergoing a trail system plan.  Until the trails are finalized, please use trail ethic to respect other trail users. Pedestrians and bicycles yield to horses, bicycles yield to pedestrians.
  • Be aware of wildlife that could take your presence by surprise. This includes rattlesnakes, which love to come out when the sun is shining.  They can also be hiding under rocks, so do not ever step on rock piles.  If you see a rattlesnake, go around it or turn around and leave.  If you get bit by mistake, remain calm, call 911, and if you have a fellow hiker to help you, get to an area where an emergency vehicle can come pick you up.
  • Keep dogs on a leash at all times.  Keeping your dog on a leash prevents them from disturbing the sensitive wildlife on the refuge, and also is safer for the other hikers on the trail. In addition, it will help prevent your dog from getting bit by a rattlesnake.
  • Pick up after your dog. At each trailhead on our refuge, there are doggie-bags to clean up after your dog. It is a good idea to bring your own cleanup bags yourself. Leaving your dog's waste is not only disturbing to other hikers and wildlife, it severely contaminates the water after rains.  Almost all creeks drain to the Sweetwater River or Otay River, which is drinking water for the citizens of San Diego.
  • If you see something disturbing or unlawful, please contact the Refuge Manager.  Please make sure you know the date, time, and location of the unlawful activity.  it may not be something law enforcement can act on, but reporting it is still important.  Call (619) 468-9245
  • Do not hike at night. The refuge is open sunrise to sunset and closed at night.
  • Try to hike with a buddy. It is wisest to not hike alone.
  • Get out there and enjoy nature ... SAFELY!


 Trail courtesy yield sign


Page Photo Credits — Visitors looking for Least Bell's vireos along the Sweetwater River riparian area.  Photo by Earl S. Cryer
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2015
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