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Exploring the Salton Sea

Niland, California

based on 4 reviews


Added by Julie Cash

Unbelievable sunsets and natural light. Great wildlife viewing. Urban exploration among the ruins.

The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, created when irrigation canals from the Colorado River broke. In the 50's and 60's the area saw a boom in resorts and recreation as new "beach front" property was available and attracted hordes of people. Those days are long gone and although the ultra saline sea is dwindling, the area has become somewhat of a wildlife haven for birds. The juxtaposition of urban decay and flourishing wildlife make this an eerily magical place. Be forewarned; it can be a little smelly at first, but you'll get used to it.

The sea is very large so there are many areas to explore but the best location by far is Bombay Beach on the south east portion. I recommend getting here about 1-1.5 hours before the sun goes down so you can see explore for a while before watching the dramatic sunset. There are plenty of places to park and you can start exploring in any direction. The lower section of the town was flooded decades ago but many decrepit treasures remain to explore; ruins of piers and docks, abandoned structures, power lines, and corroding car bodies.

Once the sun goes down the real beauty starts as the sky turns an amazing pink and the water reflects the sky's gradient colors. The water is so still and the reflection of the sky so clear that it can be hard to see where the sky ends and the water begins. Move to different parts of the beach and play with the reflections as they make for excellent photos. Depending on what time of year you visit, you might be able to see the Milky Way once it gets dark as there is not a lot of light pollution.

After dark, head on over to the Ski Inn for a patty melt (Bourdain approved). I also recommend grabbing a $3 Fat Tire and chatting with the locals about the area. It always makes for a perfect end to the day.

To get to Bombay Beach from San Diego, take I-8 East for 132 miles then take the exit for CA 111 North towards Imperial County. Follow the 111 for 38 miles and take the Avenue A exit towards Bombay Beach.

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Exploring the Salton Sea Reviews

Look but don’t touch! The water may be beautiful and tempting to take a dip in, but it’s toxic from years of pesticides sprayed on the nearby farms. The dust that can kick up, when it’s windy, can be harmful also. ☠️

Though some descriptions of Bombay Beach tempted, others made us nervous since we were traveling with a kid. We opted to primitive camp at Salt Creek ($10) and we loved the privacy and space. If you like to birdwatch, in the am tons of birds congregate on the beach nearby so you can walk down there and bird spot. There are many other primitive campgrounds along the Highway here but we liked that this one seemed to have the most birds. Others have ramadas and water but are paved. Probably some of the cleanest, well maintained camping I’ve done in CA. And so cheap! Be aware that freight trains do cruise by regularly on the other side of the highway, day and night.

Awesome, artistic, beautiful and quirky place

Whatever you do, don't get in the water! From certain areas (like the little marina) you would think it's just a nice lake- but then venture to abandoned Bombay beach and you realize you are walking through a waste land of dead fish and bizarre left items- we saw a grand piano just sitting on the beach... The town sitting against the beach is pretty run down and mostly empty (sort of creepy) but we drove past a soccer field full of children playing and mini vans so I know the whole area can't be that way. Definitely worth a stop if you're passing through- but I wouldn't make a trip of it.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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