Wildlife Watching & Nature Trails

Painted Desert trail / Oliver Davis ©

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge offers excellent opportunities to enjoy and explore the outdoors.

Painted Desert Trail (1.3 miles)
This trail offers an amazing panoramic view of the Colorado River valley and a rainbow of colors produced by 30,000 year-old volcanic ash formations. Explore and enjoy the desert’s uniquely adapted landscape and the plants and wildlife that thrive here.

Meers Point Trail (.8 miles)
This one-way trail travels between the visitor center and Meers Point Recreation Area. There are opportunities to see desert plants and wildlife including birds, coyotes, and mule deer.

Wilderness Areas
There are no designated trails within the Wilderness Area, which includes more than 15,000 acres. The majority is most easily accessed by boat or by hiking in or horseback. No vehicles, including bicycles, are permitted. Because of this, visitors have an even greater chance of seeing desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, and a variety of wetland and desert birds.

Observation Points
North of the visitor center on Red Cloud Mine Road are four observation points -- Palo Verde, Mesquite, Ironwood, and Smoke Tree. These points offer beautiful views of the Colorado River valley. Both desert and wetland wildlife may be seen here as each overlooks a segment of the Colorado’s backwaters and marshes. All of the observation points can be reached by vehicle.

Clear Lake
Farther up Red Cloud Mine Road, an unmarked spur will take you to Clear Lake. With a spotting scope or a good set of binoculars, watch the various species of ducks and geese that rest and feed at this quiet spot. Clear Lake also has a primitive boat ramp, perfect for launching a small boat, kayak or canoe. A high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. Additional details are available at the visitor center.

Visitor Center Observation Tower
Near the visitor center, the refuge’s observation tower provides an opportunity to see migratory birds making use of the nearby habitat, refuge-managed farm fields and native cottonwood and willow communities along the Colorado River.

Please Remember:
  • Be sure to pick up a Trail Guide for the Painted Desert and Meers Point trails at the visitor center.
  • There is no camping or campfires allowed on the refuge.