Rios West Trail to Nature Center


  • DISTANCE (ROUND-TRIP): 3 miles

  • TIME: 1 Hour

  • HOURS: Sunrise to sunset

  • RESTROOMS: Yes at Nature Center

  • PETS/ANIMALS: Leashed dogs welcome

  • ENTRANCE: Rios Ave Trailhead See map                     Nature Center  Loop Trail See map 

  • CLOSEST PUBLIC TRANSIT: Solana Beach Transit  See map

  • PARKING: Street parking. Please remember that you are parking in a neighborhood, so keep all driveways clear and be respectful of neighbors. Please utilize waste and recycling containers at the trailhead. 

  • TERRAIN: Unpaved and uneven path with slight inclines + declines with erosion control “stairs” at trailhead.

At the intersection of ecology, San Diego, and birdwatching . . .

. . . you have the easy-going Rios West Trail. Meander down a pleasant path with your camera and binoculars in tow. Each year, tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl visit San Elijo; they’re traveling the Pacific Flyway migration route, journeying along North America’s western coastline.

Hikers often spot a variety of birds along the salt marsh trail. After your nature walk, see how many birds you can identify in the Nature Collective Animal Guide! You can also view our bird count reports to get the latest scoop on our avian wildlife.

Keep an eye out for:

No. 1

Buhr + Martin Nature Bridges

positioned over the wetland channels that lead to the Nature Center.

No. 2

Cordgrass + Least Tern nesting area

When complete, the Least Tern nesting area will be elevated bare sand providing optimal habitat for nesting.

No. 3

Central Basin overlook

Birdwatch as you take in the views of the Central Basin.

What to Expect

  1. Begin your hike heading down the trail and delight in the views of the Central Basin.
  2. At .4 miles, you have the option of following the trail directly to the Nature Center Loop Trail or taking the undercrossing to Harbaugh Seaside Trails (out-and-back).
  3. The direct route continues past the San Elijo Water Reclamation Facility.
  4. Observe the new Least Tern nesting site – currently under construction – and Cordgrass nursery. Keep an eye out for the Ridgeway’s Rail.
  5. Cross the Martin Nature Bridge lined with colorful blooms.
  1. Continue the trail to cross over the Buhr Nature Bridge, taking a moment to appreciate the sweeping views of the Central Basin and close-up views of marine life.
  2. Explore the Nature Center Loop Trail and Nature Center before heading back the same way.
  3. At .2 miles before the trailhead venture down a short out-and-back trail on the left. Here you will find a quiet place to birdwatch and benches to rest.
  4. Join back on the main trail turning left to reach the trailhead.

On your hike, you might see . . .

Brown bird walking along chord grass

Ridgeway’s Rail

The endangered Ridgway’s Rail lives among the lagoon’s marsh grasses. Its “kek kek kek kek” call sounds like hands clapping. 

More Info

young patch of California Cord grass near the lagoon edge

California Cord Grass

California cord grass is the preferred habitat for the endangered Light-footed Clapper Rail (now Ridgway’s Rail)

More Info

More to Explore

Harbaugh Seaside Trails

Harbaugh Seaside Trails

Check out our newest open space with expansive marine views – ideal for dog walking, sunset watching, and peaceful contemplation in nature.

Learn More
Nature Center

Nature Center

Begin Your Visit to the County LEED-certified Nature Center.

Learn More
Nature Center Loop Trail

Nature Center Loop Trail

As you hike, you see why this approachable trail is a local favorite.

Learn More