Wildlife Observation

Looking out for wildlife on the Refuge!

The best opportunities for wildlife observation and photography are available along existing trails, particularly along the Sweetwater River and Loop Trail. There, interpretive signs describing the endangered and threatened plants and animals will give a modest overview of just a few of the species thriving there on the Refuge. The best time to observe wildlife is sunrise to early morning, and the evening before sunset.

Viewing the unique wildlife on the refuge is an experience to be shared with everyone -- bring your family, bring your friends, and bring your camera! Enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the flora and fauna native to San Diego.  

View a White-tailed kite hovering in the sky in search of a vole to hunt, or listen closely for the kitten-like "mew" of the coastal California gnatcatcher in the chaparral. Smell the pungent aroma of California coastal sagebrush as you hike through its fresh growth in the spring, or take in the sweet and heavy smell of goldenbush and watch it's fluffy seeds take flight in effort to pollinate.

Coastal California gnatcatcher San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is special place that nurtures and provides refuge for federally threatened and endangered species and their habitats, forever. 

They are there for you to enjoy... for past, present, and future generations!  If you would like a private tour of the refuge, please check out our "Monthly Tours" section, or visit the Events Calendar.


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