Located only 10 minutes from the historic Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1), Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to enjoy one of the most remote and least disturbed habitats in the dune complex. Not only is this habitat designated as a, but the nearby towns of Guadalupe and Nipomo have a rich history and plenty to offer visitors today.
There is no direct vehicle access into the Refuge; access is only permitted on foot. Public access is limited from the north to foot travel through 1 mile of the Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area followed by a 1-mile hike along the beach to the beach to the northern boundary of the Refuge. Public access from the south is also limited to foot travel with a 2-mile hike from Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park and then along the western edge of the Chevron Guadalupe Restoration Project to the southern boundary of the refuge. Beaches are closed from March - September to protect Federally Threatened snowy plover nesting habitat.
The local Dunes Center, located in the city of Guadalupe, CA hosts a family interpretive hikes, and special events throughout the year. Topics include bird watching, natural history, endangered species, and insects. For more information check out their events page.
National Wildlife Refuges provide the opportunity to view wildlife, especially endangered and threatened species. Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR will allow you and your family to see over 100 coastal avian species such as the threatened western snowy plover, and over 200 plant species such as coyote mint (Monardella villosa).
The refuge offers stunning views of several habitat types from steep dune systems to freshwater ponds and beaches. Be sure to bring your camera and check which times of year are best for viewing wildflowers. Please be advised that any photography, or recording, for commercial use requires a Special Use Permit.
Most portions of the Refuge are open to the public, with seasonal access restrictions enacted during western snowy plover breeding season which run from March 1st to September 30th each year. During the western snowy breeding season, travel through sensitive nesting areas is prohibited; Sensitive areas include the beach and foredunes.
Due to the presence of sensitive habitats and listed species, several wetland areas on the Refuge are currently closed to the public and all the panhandle section along the northern and northeastern portion of the Refuge is closed to public access. Please adhere to all "Area Behind this Sign Closed" signs during your visit to the refuge.
Fishing must occur in State waters outside of the refuge boundaries, however anglers can use the Refuge beach to access this area. More than 95% of catch is barred surf perch (Amphistichus argenteus). Please visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website for licenses and more information.
There are two trails available to access the Refuge, but there are no maintained trails on the Refuge property. All trails are made up of soft dune sand and vegetation does not provide many opportunities for shade. Ticks can be found on and around the Refuge, especially in more vegetated areas. Staying on trails while visiting the Refuge will help you be safe and responsible when accessing the Refuge.
Oso Flaco Hike
From the intersection of Highway 1 and 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. For more information on Oso Flaco Lake, click here.
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. For more information about the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, click here.
Other Facilities in the Complex
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is a part of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Other Refuges in the Complex include Hopper Mountain, Bitter Creek, and Blue Ridge National Wildlife Refuges.
Rules and Policies
There is very limited access to the Refuge, for both the protection of sensitive wildlife and for public safety. Please do not go off trails, or into fenced areas. All wetland areas are restricted for the protection of sensitive wildlife. The Refuge beach is closed annually from March - September to protect nesting habitat for federally threatened western snowy plover.
To help make your visit enjoyable and safe, see the complete list of compatible uses in Appendix D of the CCP.