The Refuge Visitor Center, and Headquarters, are surrounded by agricultural fields, desert uplands, cattail marshes, the Salton Sea shoreline, a small active volcano, and freshwater wetland habitats. Inside, you can pick up brochures and information packets, as well as explore a bird diorama and shop in the bookstore run by the Sea and Desert Interpretive Association. Outside, next to the main parking lot, there is the self-guided Rockhill trail, an observation tower, and picnic areas. Look at our bulletin board for up-to-date information and bird sightings. The visitor center is usually open from November to April 6 days a week, please consult the bulletin board or call the refuge for more information. While the newly renovated flush bathrooms and water fountain are available year-round.
For more information, please call 760-348-5278.
The majority of the accessible Refuge wetlands lay within the Unit 1 management area, which can be accessed through the intersection of Vendel and Bannister Rd. Visitors to Unit 1 can walk the Hardenberger Trail, occupy 2 separate photo blinds (both of which have been recently renovated), or use the observation tower and platform located next to the parking lot. Unit 1 also provides visitors with a small outhouse and a kiosk.
The Headquarters, Visitor Center, newly renovated flush bathrooms and water fountain, and gift shop are located at 906 W Sinclair Rd. While here, visitors can also access the Rockhill Trail, a 2-mile loop. Since its establishment, the refuge has had a fluid relationship with the shoreline and is not completely landlocked due to the shrinking of the sea. Though visitors can still take in sweeping views of the Sea and shoreline from the Rockhill trail which ends on top of an “active” volcano.
Some of our maps and brochures are available for you to download.
Other Facilities in the Complex
The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location.
The other refuge in the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes:
- Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and The Refuge Complex headquarters:
- 906 West Sinclair Road, Calipatria, CA 92233.
- Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge: Preserve. This refuge does not have a visitor center and is closed of to the public. Visitors can drive up to the 1000 Palm Oasis Preserve to learn more about the Refuge and the Coachella Valley Preserve that the refuge is a part of. Please visit the 1000 palms website for more information, including hours of operation.
- Address: 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms, CA 92276
Rules and Policies
There are no fees to visit the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Permits are limited to research oriented activities or deemed necessary by Refuge Management.
Hunting Permits are issued by the California Departement of Fish and Wildlife. They can be reached at 1-760-359-0577.
A series of passes covers the entrance and standard amenity fees charged for using federal recreational lands – including national wildlife refuges.
Existing Golden Eagle Passports and National Parks Passes with an expiration date will be honored until they expire. Paper versions of the Golden Age or Golden Access Passports should be exchanged for the new Senior or Access passes. However, plastic Golden Age or Access passes are valid for the pass holder's lifetime and do not need to be exchanged.
The Senior and Access passes are good for the lifetime of the holder and make available (to the pass holder only) 50 percent discounts on some expanded amenity fees.
For the first time, decals and hangtags are available: decals for those who park open-topped vehicles (like Jeeps) or motorcycles at unstaffed federal recreation sites, and hangtags for those who anticipate parking closed vehicles at unmanned facilities.
Please visit our partners at the U.S. Geological Survey, on their website for more information about passes.
The refuge trails are open from sunrise to sunset. The days and hours for the visitor center, which is located at the Rock Hill Unit, may vary based on availability of staff and volunteers. The visitor center is closed on all national holidays.
From Interstate 10 East, take the Highway 86S exit towards Brawley/El Centro. Continue south on Highway 86S for approximately 15 miles. Turn left of Route 195, also called 66th Avenue. At the next stop sign, turn right onto Highway 111 and continue south for approximately 60 miles. Once you pass through Niland, continue south 4 miles to Sinclair Road and turn right. Head west of Sinclair Road until you arrive to the Refuge Headquarters parking lot. Sinclair Road ends at this point.
From Interstate 10 West, take the Dillon Rd. exit south towards Highway 86S. Head south on Highway 86S approximately 15 miles. Turn on Route 195, also called 66th Ave. At the next stop sigh, turn right onto Highway 111 and continue south for approximately 60 miles. Once you pass through Niland, continue south 4 miles to Sinclair Road and turn right. Head west on Sinclair Road until you come to the Refuge sign. Sinclair Road ends at this point.
Coming from either direction on Interstate 8, exit onto Forrester Road. Travel north towards the town of Westmorland. Continue north through Westmorland on Forrester Road, which turns into Gentry Road. Continue north on Gentry Road until you see the Refuge sign and parking area. Gentry Road ends at this point.