Trip Planner: USA / California / California Desert / Calipatria / Wildlife Areas / Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge
The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is located north of the Mexican border at the southern end of the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley. Situated along the Pacific Flyway, the Refuge is the only one of its kind, located below sea level. Because of its southern latitude, elevation and location in the Colorado Desert, the Refuge experiences some of the highest temperatures in the nation. Daily temperatures from May to October generally exceed 100 °F with temperatures of 116°–120 °F recorded yearly.HistoryThe refuge was established as a sanctuary and breeding ground for birds and wild animals in 1930. In 1998, the refuge was renamed after Congressman Sonny Bono, who played an active role in trying to save the Salton Sea. Originally, it included approximately. Nearly 60 percent of the original acreage was an open saline lake with the remainder being shoreline alkali flats, freshwater wetlands, native desert scrub and upland (farm fields). Due to the inflow of agricultural effluent and a subsequent rise in the level of the Salton Sea, all of the original Refuge area has been inundated. At present, only about 2,200acre manageable remain suitable for farming and wetland development.GeographyThe topography of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR is flat, except for Rock Hill, which is located at the refuge headquarters. The refuge is bordered by the Salton Sea on the north and intensively farmed agricultural lands on the east, south and west.Make Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge a centerpiece of your Calipatria vacation itinerary, and find what else is worth visiting using our Calipatria trip builder.
Create a full Calipatria itinerary
Unable to display map at this time. Please try again later.
Plan your trip to Calipatria
Get a personalized planA complete day-by-day itinerary
based on your preferences
Customize itRefine your plan. We'll find the
best routes and schedules
Book itChoose from the best hotels
and activities. Up to 50% off
Manage itEverything in one place.
Everyone on the same page.
Plans in California Desert by other users
7 days in Twentynine Palms BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES December, popular PREFERENCES: December ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Medium 4 days in California BY A USER FROM ISRAEL December, kids, outdoors, fast-paced, popular PREFERENCES: December, kids, outdoors ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Fast-paced 8 days in Phoenix, Rancho Mirage & Los Angeles BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES December, teens, kids, outdoors, beaches, museums, popular PREFERENCES: December, teens, kids, outdoors, beaches, museums ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Medium 40 days in California BY A USER FROM CHINA December, outdoors, relaxing, fast-paced, popular & hidden gems PREFERENCES: December, outdoors, relaxing ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular & hidden gems PACE: Fast-paced 1 day in Palm Springs BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES December, kids, culture, outdoors, relaxing, romantic, beaches, historic sites, museums, popular & hidden gems PREFERENCES: December, kids, culture, outdoors, relaxing, romantic, beaches, historic sites, museums ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular & hidden gems PACE: Medium 1 day in Palm Springs BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES December, kids, culture, outdoors, relaxing, romantic, historic sites, museums, popular PREFERENCES: December, kids, culture, outdoors, relaxing, romantic, historic sites, museums ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Medium 20 days in Palm Springs, Scottsdale & Penticton BY A USER FROM CANADA February, outdoors, relaxing, shopping, popular PREFERENCES: February, outdoors, relaxing, shopping ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Medium 5 days in Palm Springs BY A USER FROM CANADA December, relaxing, romantic, slow & easy, hidden gems PREFERENCES: December, relaxing, romantic ATTRACTION STYLE: Hidden gems PACE: Slow & easy 24 days in United States BY A USER FROM AUSTRALIA March, slow & easy, popular PREFERENCES: March ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Slow & easy 1 day in China Lake BY A USER FROM LAOS December, culture, relaxing, beaches, historic sites, popular PREFERENCES: December, culture, relaxing, beaches, historic sites ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Medium 15 days in California BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES March, culture, outdoors, historic sites, popular & hidden gems PREFERENCES: March, culture, outdoors, historic sites ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular & hidden gems PACE: Medium 12 days in United States BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES February, teens, kids, outdoors, relaxing, popular PREFERENCES: February, teens, kids, outdoors, relaxing ATTRACTION STYLE: Popular PACE: Medium
View more plans
We spent an afternoon and evening here - wonderful views of birds in a peaceful quiet place. As the sunset we saw scores of birds coming in to roost and even saw a family of coyotes in the distance.
A group of us attending the Arizona Field Ornithologists conference in Yuma last weekend traveled to the Salton Sea on Sunday for a field trip. We were certainly not disappointed! We walked the Rock H... more »
I started at the visitor center. Where I found very helpful staff. Remember to bring water !! No shade !! I walked the Rick Hill trail at the visitor center. It's about a mile round trip, level, hard ... more »
I had to look twice and then again to make sure I was reading the signs right that kept popping up on a highway running parallel to death and directly into something much worse. "SONNY BONO'S SALTON SEA... " I said to myself frantically trying to figure out a way to roll up the electric window after blowing its fuze because I could taste the sulfur outside start to come in. "What a strange place to attach your name to. " I thought, as an erie feeling of a time that wasn’t anymore swept through my idea of what kind of place this road was leading us to. A once hot and heck of a good time was sure to be had during the family vacation for two weeks at the Salton Sea. At least that's what they used to say, until the fish started dying. Some say the water is full of poison out from under the earth where this man made once paradise in the dessert now barely serves as a suitable mirage before checking out. Others subscribe to the belief this is all the ignorant doings of Mexican waste management streamlining an ocean of Hepatitis into our sea to capitalize on the inevitable tourism bucks it's absence would surely have brought. All of this is part of the reason I'm asking myself the question : "Sony Bono?... I got you ba--" "BABE! THERE IT IS! " Exclaimed my girlfriend with fists gripped under knuckles white gripping that Hyundai steering wheel and turning into a gravel road. Sonny Bono's nature preserve was down a little further on the road and the last thing I drug us all the way out here to see. Obsidian buette and the active volcanos out in the heart of the sulfuric boggy air is why the next two hours were spent exploring just that and building up quite the sweat and thirst to go with it. Lucky for us once we made it back to the road and got moving at a respectable MPH again an old friend thought it decent to say hello one more time: SONNY BONO'S SALTON SEA... NEXT STOP To make a rediciloiusy long review a little shorter I'll just sum it up by telling you we stopped at his little place in the middle of nowhere past active volcanos and I wasn’t surprised. Mr. Bono had all the stuff our sweaty body's and thirsty mouths could ever want and the cost was nothing more then having the common sense to know how to use the hose well enough to make it shoot a little water back in return. You got me babe! Thanks for the hose water, completely random walkway to most pointless telescopes in World and no visitors so I could pee off the random walkway next to the most pointless telescopes ever. I got you babe! Or at least i thought i did...
I love the beauty of this place especially in Jan. -Feb. All the migrant birds can be seen feeding, and it's not crowded with people. Travel to and from the area is uncrowded and peaceful.
I don't know what this guy below is talking about. Clearly his brain was a little fried from the heat. This place is critical to the survival of the migratory birds that fly through into Mexico and further south. Come in the winter time and you will see hundreds of thousands if not millions of birds flying south a day! It is beautiful. The preserve plants fields of alfalfa and other grains so the geese migrating have a place to eat. The Salton Sea is pretty much the only water for migrating birds to stop by on this leg of the route from the artic all the way to Mexico and South America. If he read the informative signs and stopped at the visitors center he could of learned that 90% of all North American bird species can be found right at the reserve or in the surrounding valley. And for other people complaining about flies?! Are you kidding? Bird eat flies without them no food. Go back inside your little city bubble until you grow up and realize wherever there is water there are insects, and where there are insects there are lizards, birds and other creatures to eat the insects. Have you ever learned about ecosystems or the food web? And as for all the dead fish you will find on the coastline of the sea. That is not due to toxic water it is because there are too many damn fish! This water is cleaner and safer than most lakes in the state. The dead fish are a good sign of an extremely healthy population some would say too healthy in the Sea. Do your homework and stay away from the Sea if you cannot enjoy nature and wildlife and know the reasons this place is around and why it is so critical to 90% of N. American bird species!
Unfortunately, this place should be condemned. The swarms of flies that greet you at the entrance should be a sign that things aren't quite right. Whatever you do, don't roll your windows down!! The flies will swarm into your car and attack anything that resembles food or liquid. We made this mistake and then had to leave the windows down as we drove away from the place, for miles until the flies finally flew out or were sucked out the windows. We also made the mistake of walking out onto the sand area surrounding this toxic cesspool. The bones of thousands of dead fish crunched under our shoes as we approached the horrid, stinking banks, where we found a rotting pelican carcass floating just inches from shore. The smell of death wafted heavily in the air as we retreated back to our car, eager to leave the sights and smells behind us. We were dumbfounded at the seemingly brand-new looking picnic facilities dotting the road through the "Refuge." We could not imagine who would entertain the idea of having a picnic lunch in these surroundings. It's a shame what's become of this place, but certainly needs to be redesignated as a toxic waste site, not a "National Wildlife Refuge," as nothing but bacteria could live there.
Not worth your time to get here. Two wooden lookouts over fields of bird. Only worth it if you were already driving by, and just wanted to get out of the car for a quick break.
Best things to do in Calipatria
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Visit for: 4h
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Visit for: 3h
Visit for: 2h 30m
Visit for: 1h 30m
Visit for: 2h 30m
Indian Wells Golf Club
Visit for: 3h 30m
Joshua Tree National Park
Visit for: 1h 30m
Visit for: 4h
Imperial Sand Dunes Cahuilla Ranger Station
Visit for: 2h 30m
Rams Hill Country Clb Security
Visit for: 3h 30m
PGA West TPC Stadium Golf Course
Visit for: 3h 30m
Visit for: 3h 30m
Are you the owner of this business?Click here for promotion tips.