The trail along the north side of Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad hugs the shoreline, providing great views of shorebirds and plant life. At the trailhead at Gabbiano Lane is the compact but very comprehensive visitor center with its native plant garden (open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.). Volunteer docents from the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation are happy to answer your questions. Brochures for self-guided trail walks are available at the center or in a box outside, and there are helpful descriptive signs along the trail.
Looking west, you can see how I-5 and railroad tracks have narrowed the lagoon’s outlet to the ocean. Like other San Diego coastal wetlands, dredging is necessary to clear sand and silt so that Batiquitos does not become stagnant. Heading east on the trail, freeway noise subsides, and you can enjoy the view of the undeveloped south side of the lagoon.
Cattails and cord grass at the water’s edge survive fluctuating salty and fresh water. Bulrushes, spiny rush, and sedges are found between the trail and the water. Pickleweed and salt grass are abundant in salty soil. In season, alkali heath, salty susan, seaside heliotrope, and salt-marsh fleabane provide some color.
On the slope to your left, look for yucca and prickly pear. Succulent dudleya grows sideways on the sandstone, and sharp, thorny coastal boxthorn spills over a rock just past the first turn in the trail. Familiar coastal sage scrub plants such as California sagebrush, lemonadeberry, deer weed, goldenbush, and coyote brush mingle with imported species of eucalyptus and iceplant. (Volunteers regularly remove invasive species such as castor bean, arundo, pampas grass, tree tobacco, fennel, and hemlock.)
About halfway along the trail, a small freshwater creek is home to arroyo willow, mulefat, wild celery, and nonnative palms. In the sandstone and clay banks, from time to time, layers of shell fragments are visible. These are middens, the trash heaps left by the native people who inhabited the lagoon centuries ago.
Batiquitos hosts over 180 species of birds. Redwing blackbirds sing from the cattails, and egrets and great blue herons dot the shore. In winter, migratory shorebirds can be spotted on the mudflats along with ducks, coots, pelicans, gulls, and terns. Ospreys, or fish hawks, cruise over the water, and seasonal songbirds like yellow-rump warblers flit through the trees.
At a point where a steep slope heads up to a small parking lot, about 1.5 miles out, is a good place to turn and retrace your steps, although the trail continues almost to El Camino Real. On your way back, take another look at the displays in the visitor center. Detailed information about plants, wildlife, history, and geology can be found at batiquitosfoundation.org.
Distance from downtown San Diego: About 30 miles. Allow 30-45 minutes’ driving time.
Take I-5 north and exit east (right) on Poinsettia Lane (Exit 45). Turn right on Batiquitos Dr. and right again on Gabbiano Lane. Park at the end of the road. Count on no facilities — the nature center and its restroom are not always open.
Hike length: About 3 miles round trip. Difficulty: Easy with minimal change in elevation. The trail is wide and flat, suitable for strollers and great for group walks. Moderately accessible for wheelchairs (the trail is not paved). Dogs on a leash are allowed; horses and bicycles are not.