Tours of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

When is the "best time" to tour Bolsa Chica? ANYTIME! Please note that The California Department of Fish & Wildlife requires all groups with 25 or more participants to schedule their visit on the Master Event Calendar by calling 714-840-1575. Regardless of class size it is highly recommended that all school groups arrange for a docent-led tour. As increasingly high numbers of schools visit Bolsa Chica, overcrowding has become an issue. The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve has limited parking, and multiple large groups can overwhelm the facilities at the reserve and negatively impact wildlife. More information from the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Year-round wildlife includes egrets and herons, horn snails and crabs, with the occasional sightings of White Pelicans, Peregrine Falcon, and Northern Harrier. The winter months (especially November through March) offer high concentrations of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds such as Northern Pintails, Western Grebes, Willets, Marbled Godwits, Western Sandpipers, and many more. Up to 70 different species may be counted on a winter day! In the summer months, visitors can observe up close endangered species such as the California Least Tern, Ridgway’s Rail and Belding's Savannah Sparrow; and look at Stingrays and Sea Hares in the waters below the footbridge.

The Bolsa Chica includes over 1400 acres of undeveloped wetlands, lowlands and lower mesa. This area is rich with human history as well, beginning thousands of years ago with the Native Americans who lived atop the mesas to the duck hunters and the oil production in the twentieth century. The Bolsa Chica is also an important stop for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway, including some endangered species and threatened species. More than 200 species of birds have been sighted at Bolsa Chica. All Amigos de Bolsa Chica tours are led by Volunteer Naturalists trained in uniquely designed Bolsa Chica coursework.

The First Saturday Tour

FREE FIRST SATURDAY TOUR offers an exceptional on-site presentation of the Bolsa Chica Story. On the first Saturday of each month from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., our docents gather at the south lot of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, across the street from the main entrance to Bolsa Chica State Beach. Docents are stationed on or near the footbridge, a truly magnificent entrance to the restored Bolsa Chica wetlands. Tours begin every 15 minutes and five areas of interest are included in the presentation: history, birds, endangered species, ecology and restoration. This free tour is on a first come, first served basis. This is a wonderful opportunity for vacationers, students, small groups and local citizens to visit our valuable resource.

The Last Saturday of the Month Bird Tour

Join us for a FREE bird talk and nature walk at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve led by Amigos docents. The Bolsa Chica provides feeding and nesting habitat for thousands of birds and is considered one of the prime birding sites in Southern California. The variety of bird species changes throughout the year as they migrate during each season. The walk takes place the last Saturday of each month at 9:00 am. We meet at the South Parking Lot across from the entrance to Bolsa Chica State Beach. Carpooling is encouraged as parking at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is limited.

Private Tours for Schools, Scouts and other Organizations

An Amigos de Bolsa Chica tour of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve helps educators meet specific Next Generation Science Standards required for their grade levels. In addition, a tour of Bolsa Chica adds a special dimension to the comprehensive study of environmental issues including community action, protection of endangered species, marine debris, recycling, and pollution. How Amigos de Bolsa Chica, a small grassroots organization, championed the protection of Bolsa Chica is a wonderful example of how concerned citizens can rally together to protect an historic wetland.

Please download and read the Amigos de Bolsa Chica's Educator's Guide. This guide is designed to give educators detailed background on the various topics addressed in an Amigos de Bolsa Chica tour of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. This guide also provides sample activities that can be utilized to enhance your class’s learning experience.

The Amigos de Bolsa Chica offer two types of tours, the Footbridge Lecture Tour and the Inner Bolsa Bay Tour, that are designed to meet any educator's or group's needs. To reserve a docent led wetland tour for your class or group, please carefully read, fill out and return the Tour Scheduling Form. Maximum tour size is 60. Tours are free, but a suggested donation of $1 per person or $25 minimum is much appreciated and helps the Amgios continue providing education about wetlands. If you have questions about wetland tours or need more information, call (714) 840-1575 or e-mail:

Financial aid for bus tranportation is available for a limited number of qualifiying underserved schools each year. Call (714) 840-1575 or e-mail: to see if your school qualifies and funds are available.

The Footbridge Lecture Tour

The FOOTBRIDGE LECTURE TOUR is similar in nature to our First Saturday Tour program except this is a reserved private tour for one group. Tours are approximately 1 to 1 ¼ hours in length. This tour is popular with younger school groups, Scouts, birders, and first-time visitors to Bolsa Chica. This tour is also recommended for visitors with special needs and our younger visitors.

The Inner Bolsa Bay Tour

The INNER BOLSA BAY TRAIL TOUR starts on the footbridge where visitors observe underwater life, then continues on the renovated Inner Bolsa Bay Trail to see marsh plants and a wide variety of birds. While walking along the trail and back visitors will hear the Bolsa Chica Story and see a fabulous view of the Bolsa Chica lowlands from two raised overlooks along the Trail (South Overlook and North Overlook). The Mesa Overlook at the south end of the Mesa Trail is also included. Tours are approximately 2 hours for a total of 1.6 miles. This tour is popular with all those wishing to see as much of the Bolsa Chica wetlands as their schedule allows. Visitors to all Trail Tours must wear comfortable closed-toe shoes, and are encouraged to bring binoculars.

Trails for tours
Printable Amigos de Bolsa Chica Trail Map

Field Trip Information for School Groups

  • Safety and Supervision: For the enjoyment and safety of your group, we request a MINIMUM of one adult for every 10 children. These adults are responsible for the safety and discipline of students and ensuring that students follow the rules. This is not the role of our tour leaders.
  • Special Needs and Medical Problems: We request that children with special needs have a MINIMUM of one adult for every 5 children. Please alert the tour leader of any special allergies or medical problems before the tour begins. Bring any necessary medications.
  • Our Two Rules: Our two rules (“protect the wildlife” and “listen to and obey your tour leader”) apply during the entire tour.
  • Clothing: This is an outdoor program. Weather is changeable, so wear appropriate clothes and shoes for the season.
  • Breakfast: Remind your students to have a good breakfast before the tour. Students will not have an opportunity to eat until after the tour.
  • Cancellation of Tours: We will cancel the tour in the event of rain and reschedule with the teacher.

2 Rules to Protect Our Wildlife and Your Children

Because the Amigos de Bolsa Chica cares about wetland habitat and wildlife, everything at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is protected. Please review our two rules with your students BEFORE your visit to Bolsa Chica. Teachers, aides and parents are all responsible for ensuring that children obey the rules at all times. We want you to have a wonderful experience with nature! Thank you!

Rule #1: Respect the wildlife in their home

  • Use a quiet voice at all times
  • Stay on the trails
  • Do not pick any plants
  • Do not harm any insects

Rule #2: Listen to and obey your tour leader

  • Only 1 person talks at a time
  • When your tour leader is talking, you listen
  • Raise your hand to speak
  • Stay behind the tour leader on the trails
  • Follow instructions

To reserve a docent led wetland tour for your class or group, please carefully read, fill out and return the Tour Scheduling Form. If you have questions about wetland tours or need more information, call (714) 840-1575 or e-mail: