Visiting Bolsa Chica Wetlands with Kids

Looking for a fun way to get outside in Southern California? Consider visiting Bolsa Chica Wetlands with kids! It’s a flat, easy walk with lots to see. Fun for the whole family!

I’ve lived here in Long Beach for almost twenty years (oh, ew. How am I that old?) and I’ve never visited the Bolsa Chica Wetlands before.

I’d always heard about them, and how beautiful it was, and what a nice walk it was.

But I’d also heard about how terrible parking is, and it was enough to put me off completely.

So when a trip with Cub Scouts forced my hand, I had no choice but to visit Bolsa Chica Wetlands with kids (like, LOTS of them) for the first time.

And it turns out (like so many things) I had nothing to be afraid of, and only wished I’d done it sooner.

If you are also intimidated by the adventure, or are looking to visit Bolsa Chica Wetlands for the first time, here are some pro tips to make the whole thing less scary (and more fun).

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Where Are the Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands are located just past Sunset Beach, and to the East of Bolsa Chica State Beach.

Head south on PCH, and choose from the north or south parking lots to start your trip.

Here is the address for the north parking lot: 3842 Warner Avenue, Huntington Beach, CA 92649.

Here is the address for the south parking lot: 1800 CA-1, Huntington Beach, CA 92648.

How is Parking at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

Parking can be a little bit tricky at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. There are two parking lots, with limited spaces. You’ll either get a spot, or you won’t. Your best bet, as with pretty much any attraction in Southern California, is to get there early.

Parking seems to rotate out quickly though. If you don’t see a spot, give it a few minutes and try it again. We know many people also park in the Trader Joes shopping center across the street, but be aware that technically this is only for shopping center customers.

Are the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Free?

Parking at Bolsa Chica Wetlands is free, and you can also access the hiking trails at Bolsa Chica Wetlands for free.

When are the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Open?

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands from 6 am to 8 pm daily, and are self-monitored.

What are the Rules for Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands are largely self-monitored, so you will definitely see people breaking some of these rules.

But it’s important to set a good example for our kiddos, especially in an ecological preserve.

Here are some of the rules at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands:

  • No pets
  • No bicycles
  • Please don’t feed the animals.
  • Stay on the trail.
  • Do not disturb any animal habitats (nests, warrens, etc)
  • No swimming
  • Do not remove anything from the wetlands (plants, shells, etc)

Are Dogs Allowed at Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

Sorry, your furry family members are going to have to stay home for this one- there are no dogs allowed at Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

What Should I Bring to the Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands tend to be windy, and thus several degrees cooler than other parts of Southern California. It’s best to prepare accordingly, and bring layers.

We recommend:

  • Layers! Bring a sweater or windbreaker, along with a way to store it if it’s warmer than you expect.
  • Sunhats for Everyone- There’s no real shade at the Bolsa Chica wetlands, so everyone should bring a sunhat.
  • Sunglasses- As we mentioned, it’s a very sunny place- come prepared!
  • Sunscreen- We like this reef-safe spray on sunscreen, since you’ll be in a ecological preserve. And we just found this roll-on sunscreen. It’s an absolute game changer for faces, necks, and chests.
  • Snacks- Bring all the snacks for this one. There are lots of little lookouts with benches to enjoy a snack to keep up your strength.
  • Water- We like these hiking water packs, as they allow the kids to get a drink whenever they want. You can also bring a resuable water bottle, or just plain bottled water. Either way, plan to be thirsty and come prepared!
  • Backpack- Any backpack will do, but if you plan to hike often, it might make sense to invest in a hiking backpack.
  • Binoculars These aren’t strictly necessary, but there is lots of bird watching at Bolsa Chica, and your kids may enjoy using their kid-sized binoculars to get a closer look.
  • Carrier for Younger Children- We used this Ergo baby carrier until our kids were nearly 4. It’s really versatile for many different environments. If you plan to hike more often, it might make sense to get a hiking carrier.

How Long is the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Hike?

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands have about 5 miles of trails, but you don’t have to hike them ALL.

Before you go, it’s best to take a look at the Bolsa Chica map, and download a copy to your phone.

Most recently, I went to Bolsa Chica with a group of five year olds. We found that walking the straight, official trail to the pocket trail, but then doubling back to the Interpretive Center, was plenty of walking for the little guys.

Older kids and families can include the pocket loop in their hike for a longer distance, a total of just over two miles.

Those who are more interested in hiking can take the trail to the south parking lot, then return for a trip of about three miles.

What Ages is Best for Visiting the Bolsa Chica Wetlands with Kids?

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands are good for all ages, since you can easily modify the length of the hike to suit your family’s needs.

However, your toddlers and preschoolers may not see much of interest. If you go with younger children, we recommend taking a backpack or hiking carrier with you, as little legs will struggle with the distance of even the shorter paths.

Bolsa Chica Wetlands is best for kids 7 and up, in our opinion, though you know your family and kids’ interests better than we do.

What Will We See at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

Don’t overhype the Bolsa Chica Wetlands too much with your kids. Though, as adults, we find it beautiful, it’s not quite as exciting to little kids.

It is an ecological preserve, so expect to see lots of water, native grasses, and local wildlife (primarily, birds).

When is the Best Time to Go to the Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

The Bolsa Chica wetlands are open and accessible year round, and our mild SoCal temperatures make it cmofortable throughout the year.

However, local wildlife will be most active during the winter and summer months. You can also expect to see more wildlife in the morning, and during receding tides (check the tide chart here if you’re trying to time your visit)

Here are some of the animals you could see– but they are sometimes elusive, so definitely don’t make any promises to the kiddos.

  • Marine Life- If tides are amenable, you could see some marine life. Think similar to the tidepools at Cabrillo– sting rays, sea hares, and fish.
  • Reptiles- lizards and snakes, especially. Do be aware, but also remember that snakes have no interest in bothering. Stay on the trails, and you’ll be just fine.
  • Small Mammals- there’s a chance of spotting rabbits or rodents.
  • Birds- birds are the big draw here. You may see falcons, hawks, pelicans, herons, and egrets. A bald eagle has also been known to visit the wetlands. Check the Bolsa Chica Bird Checklist for help IDing the birds you see.

What Do We Love About the Bolsa Chica Wetlands?

Every year, we aim to spend at least 1,000 hours outside with our family. As much as we love hanging in our yard or visiting the Nature Center in Long Beach, we also need some adventures to keep things fresh.

Bolsa Chica feels like a just-the-right-size adventure for our family. It’s not a long drive, it’s low stress, and it’s a chance to get out and exercise together.

We love putting on our “noticing eyes,” even bringing binoculars and notebooks at times, and getting competitive about who can spot the most exciting things.

Visiting the Bolsa Chica Wetlands with kids is a GREAT chance to get out of the house and into nature with your family. It is a long walk, but the beautiful views and cool ocean air should be enough to keep everyone going.

Looking for more outdoor fun near Long Beach? Head here next-

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