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Salton Sea State Recreation Area

Ironwood Nature Trail

From Visitor Center to Mecca Beach is 2 miles round trip;
to Corvina Beach is 4.5 miles round trip

Between the desert and the sea is an intriguing, sun-baked shoreline, quite unlike any other locale in the California desert.

Some eighteen miles of Salton Sea shoreline within the Salton Sea State Recreation Area invites the camper, angler, swimmer and sunbather. Hikers will enjoy Ironwood Nature Trail which explores the shoreline between the visitors center and Mecca Beach.

The 15 mile wide, 35 mile long Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when Colorado River floodwaters overwhelmed an Imperial Valley dike during construction of the All-American Canal. For two years water poured into the Salton Sink, an ancient sea bed.

Surrounding rivers, washes and canals continue to refill the lake with a combination of rainwater and agricultural runoff. Fertilizers and other minerals contribute to the high salinity (more than 25 times “saltier” than the Pacific Ocean) of the Salton Sea. Scientists are researching the sea’s odd chemistry and environmental conditions in order to determine why there are occasional massive bird die-offs along the shoreline. Researchers are investigating salt levels and seeking ways to stabilize them.

The Salton Sea’s unusual combination of desert and aquatic environments attracts a wide variety (some 350 species have been counted) of birds. Most noticeable of the feathered visitors and residents are the geese, particularly the loud-honking Canada geese who fly here in their distinctive V-shaped formation.

Also easy to spot are the large snow geese and the Ross geese, white geese that are similar to, but smaller than, the snow geese.

Learn more about the origins, present dilemmas and possible ecological fate of the Salton Sea at the visitor center located near the park’s harbor. Obtain a nature trail brochure and walk to the trailhead from here, or drive to Campsite 32 in the headquarters campground known as Los Frijoles Camp, now called New Camp or Headquarters Campground.

Plan to catch some rays or take a swim at trail’s end. Sandy Mecca Beach is a popular swimming area. Showers are available to wash off the film of salt and plankton that coats the swimmer.

The Salton Sea’s most intriguing trail isn’t for hikers. A new kayak trail extends 14 miles along the shoreline, from behind the visitor center at Varner Harbor to Bombay Beach Campground.

Kayakers enjoy warm lake temperatures that range from the 60s in winter to the upper 80s in the summer. Two kayak camps—Salt Creek and Bombay Beach—beckon with kayak racks, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers.

During the winter months, rangers and volunteers lead interpretive hikes. Check at the ranger station or with camp hosts for scheduled walks.

Directions to trailhead: Salton Sea State Recreation Area is located some 25 miles southeast of Indio via Highway 111.

The hike: From the campground, enjoy the thirty-stop nature trail that explores everything from salt to salt cedars to smoke trees. When you reach Mecca Beach, you can either return via the nature trail or by picking your own route closer to shore.

If you want to extend your walk, continue walking along the shoreline to undeveloped Corvina Beach Campground or as far as you choose.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at