Frequently Asked Questions

family hike facing camera

When is the best season to visit the Refuge?  

Winter is a good time to see migrating waterfowl and spring is the best time to view coastal dune plants in bloom and migrating shorebirds.

Where can I camp?  

Camping is not allowed on the Refuge. Camping is permitted a nearby state, county, and private campgrounds.

Other nearby activities?  

While visiting the Refuge, stop by the Dunes Center in Guadalupe to experience their educational exhibits. Also, you may wish to enjoy the historic and cultural activities found in Guadalupe.

Where can I get a map of the Refuge and surrounding lands?  

Visit the Dunes Center web site for driving directions and a map of how to access the Refuge and surrounding lands at: 

How do I access the Refuge?  

Road access to the Refuge is not available. Visitor access is only permitted from the beach, and requires a rigorous 4.0-mile or 4.5 -mile round trip hike through soft sand to reach the Refuge boundaries. Access hikes also require crossing at least one stream. During and after heavy rains, stream flows may be high. During these high flows, stream crossings may be hazardous, and are not advised. High surf and high tides may also present safety hazards.

Visitors may reach the Refuge via either of two access hikes:

1) Oso Flaco Hike From the intersection of Highway 1and Oso Flaco Lake Road, located 3 miles north of Guadalupe, proceed 3 miles west to the Oso Flaco Lake parking lot. This park and parking lot are owned and managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks). A fee for parking is charged. If a State Parks attendant is not present, be sure to use the self-pay parking envelopes at the entry kiosk. After paying for parking, hike 1 mile west across the Oso Flaco Lake trail and boardwalk to the beach. After reaching the beach, proceed south a quarter-mile to Oso Flaco Creek. If the stream crossing is shallow and safe, proceed 1 mile south along the beach to the northern Refuge boundary. This route requires a round trip hike of approximately 4.5 miles to reach the Refuge and return to the parking lot.

2) Rancho Guadalupe Hike From the intersection of Highway 1 (Guadalupe Street) and Highway 166 (Main Street), at the south end of Guadalupe, drive 2.8 miles to the entrance gate of the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve parking lot. A voluntary donation for access to the park is requested at the entrance gate. From the entrance gate, drive 2.0 miles west to the paved parking lot, located at the beach. This park and parking lot are owned by the County of Santa Barbara Department of Parks and Recreation, and are managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. From the parking lot, hike north along the beach about a half-mile to the Santa Maria River. If the river crossing is shallow and safe, hike about 1.5 miles north along the beach to the northern Refuge boundary. This route requires a round trip hike of approximately 4.0 miles to reach the Refuge and return to the parking lot.

Is the Refuge accessible all year?  

The lower portion of the beaches adjacent to the Refuge is accessible all year. The Refuge is only accessible from October 1 through the last day of February each year. The federally threatened western snowy plover breeds along the beaches and fore dunes of the Refuge and neighboring areas. Access to the Refuge and neighboring areas is restricted during the western snowy plover breeding season period from March 1 through September 30 of each year.

Is beach hiking permissible during western snowy plover breeding season?  

Each year during the western snowy plover breeding season, the Refuge beach and adjacent beaches are posted with fences, signs, and or ropes. These items are positioned to protect breeding western snowy plover. Walking into protected breeding habitat is illegal and carries severe penalties. You may walk or run along the beach on the seaward side of the posted areas. The safest practice is to stay on the wet sand. However, even when staying on wet sand near the water’s edge, please be on the lookout for eggs, nests, and chicks – they are very difficult to detect, and easy to trample.

Are services or facilities available on the Refuge?  

Road access, facilities, or services are not available on the Refuge. Facilities are available at the Oso Flaco Lake parking lot, Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve parking lot, and Dunes Center.

Does the Refuge provide handicapped access?  

Due to the remote location of the Refuge and the lack of road access, handicapped access to or on the Refuge is not available. However, an off-road wheelchair is available for no charge from the Dunes Center. This wheelchair may be used to access the beach via the parking lots at Oso Flaco Lake or Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. Call the Dunes Center at (805) 343-2455 for more details.

What activities are allowed on the Refuge?  

Hiking, surf fishing, photography, and wildlife viewing are allowed on the Refuge.

What is prohibited on the Refuge? 

All plants, animals, habitats, and artifacts are fully protected, and may not be collected or otherwise disturbed. Vehicles, dogs, horses, camping, fires, kites, hunting, littering, advertising, firearms, and fireworks are prohibited on the Refuge. In accordance with National Wildlife Refuge regulations, other items and activities may also be prohibited.

Where can I get food or fuel?  

The nearest location to get food or fuel is in Guadalupe, located about 5 miles southeast of the Refuge.