By John McKinney
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Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve
West Bluff Trail
From Interpretive Center to South Boundary is 2 miles round trip
Several hundred thousand visitors a year walk or cycle around Upper Newport Bay, but very few hike the trails on the west side of the bay. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, which preserves the bluffs surrounding Upper Newport Bay, offers the hiker a special vantage point for observing one of the more pristine of Southern California’s estuaries.
From the bluffs look down on birds that gather here in large numbers—more than 35,000. The estuary is home to nearly 200 species of birds, including several endangered ones. Three uncommon bird species have spotted by the bluffs, including the burrowing owl, San Diego cactus wren and the California gnatcatcher.
The interpretive center, built into the bluffs on the northwest side of Upper Newport Bay, offers great panoramic views to visitors, who learn about the bay and the California coast’s precious wetlands from an excellent assemblage of exhibits and interactive displays. Kids enjoy Tunnel of Mud, a worm’s eye view of the bay.
During the 1960s, conservationists rallied to thwart a developer’s plan to use the bay for a waterskiing complex and to preserve the undeveloped portions of Upper Newport Bay. In later years, the bluffs on the northwest and north sides of the bay were added to a regional park, which in 2000 was rededicated as a preserve.
Numerous informal trails used to weave along the west side of the bay. Some of these trails have been closed off to restore native plant life, and for other ecological reasons. Please heed the signs.
Directions to trailhead: From the San Diego Freeway (405) southbound, take the 73 South and take the Campus/Irvine exit. Merge right and turn right on Irvine Avenue. Turn left on University Drive, then make the first right into the parking lot. The Interpretive Center is located at 2301 University Drive in Newport Beach
From the San Diego Freeway (405) northbound, exit on Jamboree and make a left. Turn right on Campus, which becomes Irvine Avenue. Turn left on University Drive, then make the first right into the parking lot.
The hike: From the visitor center, you can scope out the hiking trails. One path leads up to the blufftop by Irvine Avenue. Another path travels the base of the bluffs closer to water’s edge.
I suggest following the sometimes muddy pathway at the base of the bluffs, which in places leads close to waters edge. Keep alongside the mudflats until either your forward progress is halted by mud, water or reaching the south boundary of the preserve and a residential area.
Return via the path atop the bluffs, which offer great views as well as interpretive signs that tell of the history and ecological complexity of the estuary.
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